Most women in the workplace are at least familiar with the basic protections of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, especially those who are already parents or who want to be. In addition to protecting against discrimination in the form of adverse employment actions, pregnant employees are also entitled to reasonable accommodations under certain situations. A recent case filed by a former Tuscaloosa police officer addressed this very issue.
Police Officer treated badly after the birth of her child
Before taking approved FMLA leave for the birth of her child, Stephanie Hicks had worked with the Tuscaloosa Police Department for five years. In fact, she was an investigator with the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force. She worked primarily undercover focusing on prescription drug abuse, investigating individuals who were suspected of selling drugs like Oxycontin and Adderall on the black market.
When she returned to work after her son was born, she was immediately targeted. She was disciplined and denied a private place to breastfeed. She was demoted from investigator to patrol, which meant a reduction in pay and longer work hours. She was also denied any reasonable accommodation that would allow her to continue breastfeeding. When she began pumping breast milk for her child, she was criticized and subjected to hostile and discriminatory comments.
Particularly concerning was the fact that she was denied an accommodation regarding her bulletproof vest which she was only required to wear because she had been demoted to patrol. Despite her doctor’s indication that wearing the vest could potentially result in breast infections and the police department gave her two options: go without a bulletproof vest or wear a larger vest, which meant dangerous gaps in protection.
Discrimination and harassment led to her constructive discharge
In the face of these discriminatory and harassing actions by her employer, Hicks faced an impossible choice: continue to work as a police officer under these conditions or resign so she could avoid unnecessary danger and properly feed her child. When Hicks decided to resign, she also filed a lawsuit against the City of Tuscaloosa for violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the FMLA.
According to an article Hicks wrote for the ACLU, the decision was a difficult one. She had this to say on the issue:
I struggled with the decision to leave my job because I loved it, and my family depended on the income. I believe women can be good mothers and still go to work. I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom because I love to work and our family needs two salaries to live. But I felt I had no choice but to quit my job in order to keep breastfeeding my newborn son.
I brought my case to court because I didn’t want other women to be forced to choose between feeding their child and keeping their job. I took a stand and fought back on behalf of all women so no other moms would be put in this situation.
Lucky for her, the decision to resign and to file suit paid off.
Verdict in favor of officer upheld by the Eleventh Circuit
Ultimately, the federal court that heard her case found in favor of Hicks, awarding her $374,000.00. Although the City of Tuscaloosa appealed, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment.
If you feel you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!