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Officer’s claim she was denied light duty after announcing her pregnancy survives based on comments by mayor, police chief

By Jeffrey H. Brochin, J.D.

Statement by former mayor that if the officer wanted to keep her job she should not stay pregnant constituted direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination.

A female police officer who was denied a light duty assignment after she informed her employer that she was pregnant survived the employer’s motion for summary judgment against her pregnancy discrimination claim, a federal district court in Louisiana determined. The police chief admitted that he did not even consider accommodating the officer as they had previously done for injured male officers. The court found particularly troubling the alleged statement made to the officer by the former mayor that, if she wanted to keep her job, she should not stay pregnant. The court found that this odious comment to her constituted direct evidence of discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) (Townsend v. Town of Brusly, November 8, 2019, Dick, S.).

Request for light duty. On March 25, 2015, the officer informed her police chief and assistant chief of her pregnancy and advised them that, during her previous pregnancy while employed by a different police department, she was able to obtain a light duty position until her delivery. In response, the police chief requested that she provide confirmation from her physician of both her pregnancy and what patrolman duties she could perform. Although she had not yet seen her physician, she stated that during her last pregnancy, she was restricted from carrying a firearm, but she also stated that she felt capable of performing her duties in the meantime.

On March 30, 2015, the employer received a letter from her doctor requesting that she be given a light duty position during her pregnancy, and on March 31, the assistant chief advised the officer to take the next two days off with pay.

No light duty positions. On April 6, the officer requested various documents and records from the employer, including sick leave and comp time balances and information regarding town council meetings held regarding her employment. Ten days later, the employer notified her that because she refused to execute a release for the employer to speak to her doctor, they could not consider possible accommodations for her pregnancy. She was later told that as of April 24, her sick leave sick and regular leave time would be exhausted, unpaid administrative leave would begin April 25, and that there were no light duty positions available in the department.

An insulting employment condition. At a meeting held in May 2015 attended by the officer, her lawyer, police officials, and the former mayor, various requests were made for reassignment and/or light-duty that would accommodate the officer’s pregnancy, or for placement in another city position, but all these requests were rebuffed. The meeting ended when the former mayor stated that if the officer wanted to keep her job, she should not stay pregnant. Her POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certification mandated by Louisiana law lapsed in May 2015, and in November 2015 a new policeman was hired to replace her.

At a January 11, 2016 meeting, she was told by the employer that if she dropped her EEOC complaint and lawsuit, they would consider reinstating her to her previous position, but she declined the terms and was terminated in that very meeting.

Proof of direct evidence. The court found that the statements submitted in the record—which the employer did not dispute, or controvert, constituted direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination. The court found particularly troubling the alleged statement made to the officer by the former mayor that, if she wanted to keep her job, she should not stay pregnant. That statement alone was sufficient to constitute direct evidence of discrimination.

In addition, the statement that no female officers would be allowed to perform jail bookings and the admission by the police chief that the employer never even considered placing the officer on light duty based on the limitations due to her pregnancy also constituted direct evidence of discrimination. Based on the foregoing, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment on the officer’s pregnancy discrimination claim.