In the waning days of Women’s History Month, I’ve tried to sit down and take stock of some of the progress that we have made. It is of course important to recognize that we have made some important strides in areas such as reproductive health, violence against women, and employment discrimination. But we still have a long way to go.
In January, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Act extends the time period in which a petitioner can challenge discriminatory compensation practices, and is an important step towards eradicating wage discrimination. Yet today, female Detroit police officers still lack something that is perhaps even more basic than equal pay: an equal opportunity to work.
Under current Detroit Police Department policy, pregnant officers are immediately placed on unpaid leave as soon as their pregnancy is disclosed. Instead of being given the opportunity to continue working at one of the many administrative positions available at the DPD, these women lose their paycheck, and in many cases, their only source of insurance. As a result, what is under normal circumstances a time of celebration is often marred by economic struggles. The ACLU of Michigan has filed a complaint against the DPD on behalf of five female officers challenging this discriminatory practice. These women do not want special treatment or extra benefits – they simply want the opportunity to continue to do their job. One officer, Angelica Robinson, was already working at a desk when she was placed on unpaid leave. Others were denied the opportunity to transfer to administrative duty during their pregnancy, notwithstanding the fact that several injured male officers were granted such positions. As a result, Officer Sha-mar Woods was forced to apply for welfare and go on Medicaid to obtain health insurance for herself and her unborn child. Unfortunately, these stories are not unique. As soon as the complaint was made public, additional stories poured into our office.
Just this Sunday, the Detroit Free Press reported that seven Detroit Police officers who allegedly falsified arrest reports have been re-assigned to administrative desk duties during internal and criminal investigations of their behavior. It may be that crime does not pay, but under current DPD policy, alleged crimes do afford more opportunity to work for wages than pregnancy. This highlights the extreme disparity in treatment that pregnant women in the DPD continue to face. In today’s economy, the DPD’s policies have created a situation where couples literally cannot afford to expand their family. Recognizing the victories that we have already achieved, this represents the next hurdle that we must overcome in our path towards true equality for women.
By Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney