DETROIT — In an effort to protect the rights of women, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit late yesterday on behalf of five Detroit Police officers who were forced to go on unpaid leave after becoming pregnant. The lawsuit charges that the Detroit Police Department discriminated against the officers in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
"Through this discriminatory policy, the Department forces pregnant officers to choose between their careers and their families -- a choice that's both illegal and unfair,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “The DPD denies desk duty positions to pregnant police officers just because they are pregnant, while it offers those same positions to chosen male officers. Although the five women we represent were perfectly able to work, they were forced home early in their pregnancies and were forced to rely on banked sick days or go unpaid.”
In 2004,the DPD changed its light-duty policy in a way that disqualifies pregnant officers from hundreds of precinct desk and other non-patrol jobs that would have enabled them to continue working for much of their pregnancies. Because of this change, many female Detroit Police officers have been left with no alternative but to conceal their pregnancies out of fear of temporarily losing their job.
One of the plaintiffs, Officer Angelica Robinson, had been working a desk job for five year in Crime Analysis Division of the DPD, was forced out of her job when she became pregnant until after she gave birth even though the pregnancy did not interfere with her job duties. Another plaintiff, Officer Sha-Mar Woods, was forced to go on welfare when the DPD sent her home because of her pregnancy.
“No woman should have to choose between starting a family and being able to provide for that family,” said Officer Tisha Prater, the lead plaintiff in the case. “Through this lawsuit, I hope to be the voice for dozens of mothers and expectant mothers who have had to deal with this unfair policy.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Prater and four other officers who were forced to take unpaid leave after their pregnancies became known to the Department. The lawsuit asks the court to strike down the policy as illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It also asks that the court award the plaintiffs an unspecified amount in damages.
"Our clients in this case represent dozens of women in the DPD who face the same hurdles when choosing to start a family," said Deborah Gordon, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney. "The Detroit Police Department should commit itself to equality in the workplace, and should immediately put a stop to this discriminatory practice.”
Many other police and fire departments, including the Detroit Fire Department, permit women to work throughout their pregnancies. Rather than suspending pregnant firefighters, the Detroit Fire Department makes individual determinations based on medical concerns about whether a pregnant woman should continue in her present position or be placed on light duty.
Prater, 27, has been a Detroit police officer since 2001. After 6 years of dedicated service to the department, Prater became pregnant. At this time, she did not to tell anyone at work for fear of being forcibly put on unpaid leave. In July of that year, she told her supervisors and supplied them with medical paperwork showing that she was still capable of full time police work. Nevertheless, she was immediately informed that she would be placed on leave.
Officer Angelica Robinson, 33, was forced on sick leave after 13 years of service even though she had been working a desk job in the Crime Statistics and Analysis Section when she became pregnant. Although she was still able to perform her job up to the end of her pregnancy, she was forced on leave when rumors began to float around the office about her pregnancy.
Officer Sha-Mar Woods, 28, has been a DPD officer since 2001. When she became pregnant in 2007, she did not immediately spread her happy news for fear of being removed from the force. In January 2008, a supervisor stated that Woods may have been exposed to tuberculosis and ordered her to the medical section, a pretext for uncovering Woods’ pregnancy. After the exam, Woods was placed on leave even though she was able to work. In order to make ends meet during the time she was on unpaid leave, Woods was forced to apply for government assistance.
Officer Kelly Lucy, 29, has worked for the DPD since August 1999. In February 2008, Lucy voluntarily announced that she was pregnant to her supervisors, expecting that she would be placed on a light-duty assignment. Instead, Lucy was placed on leave on the same day she reported her pregnancy. In addition to being put on an unpaid leave, Lucy became ineligible to take a promotional examination and missed a potential job promotion.
Officer Jamaica Skender, 29, began working with DPD in 2000 as a patrol officer. In March 2008, Skender voluntarily reported to her time keeping supervisor that she had become pregnant. She was put on leave immediately. Skender had enough compensatory time to continue her paychecks for the first month of her leave. However, since approximately April, Skender has been on unpaid leave.
In addition to Moss and Gordon, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Sarah Prescott and Sharon Dolente, Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU Staff Attorney Jessie Rossman.
To read a copy of the complaint, visit: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/dpdpregnancycomplaint.pdf