WASHINGTON - The Justice Department filed a proposed consent decree with the city of Florence, Kentucky, to resolve a pregnancy and disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to the department's complaint, Florence discriminated against two pregnant police officers by denying both officers' requests for light duty. The department alleges that Florence previously assigned light duty positions to employees who were temporarily unable to perform their regular job duties, regardless of why the employee needed light duty. In April 2013, within months of a police officer's pregnancy-related light duty request, Florence limited light duty to employees with on-the-job injuries. Florence also required that employees with non-work-related illnesses, injuries or conditions demonstrate that they had "no restrictions" before they could return to work.
In 2014, according to the department's complaint, Police Officers Lyndi Trischler and Samantha Riley requested light duty when they were unable to perform their duties as patrol officers due to their pregnancies. Officer Trischler, who was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy and suffered complications, also requested light duty as a reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy-related disability. Florence denied the requests and required each to take leave. After placing Officers Trischler and Riley on leave, Florence continued to grant light duty to other employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.
This is the department's first lawsuit challenging a discriminatory light duty policy since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling regarding light duty policies and pregnant employees in Young v. United Parcel Service. It is also the department's first lawsuit challenging disability-related "no restrictions" policies in the workplace.
"No woman should ever have to choose between having a family and earning a salary," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "Equally important, individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations deserve an opportunity to keep their jobs. The Justice Department will continue working tirelessly to protect pregnant women against unlawful discrimination in the workplace."
Under the consent decree, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Florence will adopt new policies that allow accommodations, including light duty, for pregnant employees and employees with disabilities; establish an effective process for receiving and responding to employees' accommodation requests and discrimination complaints; and ensure the proper maintenance of employee medical records. In addition, Florence will train all supervisors, administrators, officers and employees who participate in making personnel decisions related to light duty and other accommodation requests made pursuant to Title VII and the ADA. Florence has also agreed to pay $135,000 in compensatory damages and attorney's fees as well as restore the paid leave that Officers Trischler and Riley were forced to use.
"Providing pregnant employees with light duty when appropriate can be a critical reasonable accommodation," said Chair Jenny R. Yang of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). "In 2015, the EEOC issued updated pregnancy discrimination guidance explaining that light duty policies that accommodate some workers but refuse to accommodate pregnant women may run afoul of the law. The comprehensive guidance provides information to assist employers in developing, disseminating and enforcing strong policies consistent with the requirements of Title VII and the ADA."
"We are working closely with our colleagues at the DOJ's Civil Rights Division and this consent decree is an excellent result of the partnership between the EEOC and the DOJ," said Director Michelle Eisele of the EEOC's Indianapolis District Office. "We look forward to future successful collaborations."
Officers Trischler and Riley are represented by the non-profit advocacy organization, A Better Balance, and the law firm Outten & Golden LLP. They originally filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC's Cincinnati Office investigated the charges, determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred and referred the charges to the department.
The case is being handled by Trial Attorneys Catherine Sellers of the Civil Rights Division's Employment Litigation Section and Elaine Grant of the Civil Rights Division's Disability Rights Section.
The continued enforcement of Title VII and the ADA is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. More information about Title VII, the ADA and other federal employment laws is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov.