NEW YORK -- The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union today began a jury trial in federal court arguing that the Suffolk County Police Department discriminates against women officers by denying them access to limited duty positions, like working the precinct desk, during their pregnancies.
"The Suffolk County Police Department denies desk duty positions to pregnant police officers just because they are pregnant, while it offers those same positions to chosen male police officers," said Cassandra Stubbs, an attorney with the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project. "Without access to limited duty positions, the six women who are the plaintiffs in this lawsuit were forced home early in their pregnancies, relying on banked sick and vacation days or going unpaid. The Suffolk County Police Department forces pregnant officers to choose between their careers and their families -- a choice that's both illegal and unfair."
The Suffolk County Police Department changed its limited duty policy in April 2000. The new policy disqualifies pregnant officers from precinct desk and other non-patrol jobs that would have enabled them to continue working for much of their pregnancies. At the same time as it denies limited duty to pregnant officers, the department fails to provide pregnant officers with fitting bulletproof vests or gun belts that are necessary to continue performing patrol duties while pregnant.
"Our clients in this case face the same hurdles that women in traditionally male fields confront across the country," said Namita Luthra, an attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "To advance in these fields women need access to limited duty for temporary periods of time during their pregnancies."
In 1986, Suffolk County settled a federal lawsuit charging its Police Department with sex and race discrimination in its hiring and promotion practices. As part of the settlement, the department agreed not to use any qualification or selection criteria that would have a negative impact on officers due to their race, ethnicity or gender. Forcing pregnant officers to stop working violates that agreement, the civil liberties groups said.
"My whole life I wanted to be a police officer, and when I joined the force I took that responsibility very seriously," said Police Officer Sandra Lochren. "When I was forced to stay off my job because the precinct wouldn't give me limited duty when I was pregnant, I felt betrayed by the agency it had been my dream to join."
The case is being tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay. Stubbs and Elisabeth Benjamin of the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project, Luthra and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, and cooperating attorneys Linda Neilan and Carmelyn Malalis of Outten & Golden LLP comprise the legal team on the case.