The presence of gender-based discrimination within the labor force is still prevalent today, despite the enforcement of federal civil rights laws that condemn such behavior. And its exhibition has become a predominant issue for women in all workforce industries. Rooted in gender-based discrimination is pregnancy discrimination, which involves treating a woman employee unfairly due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or any medical condition caused by pregnancy or childbirth. Mothers across the country have experienced demotions, discharges, and have been passed over for promotions, all due to the fact that they are pregnant, or may potentially get pregnant, in an effort for an employer to avoid providing reasonable workplace accommodations for them.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act dictates that in order to keep from alienating pregnant employees, employers must treat them similarly to that of a temporarily disabled employee. Any unfavorable treatment that deviates from this expectation is considered discrimination. Pregnant women who believe that they are being subjected to discriminatory behavior in the workplace are granted the constitutional right to sue employers and/or employees for compensatory damages.
A Frankfort Illinois policewoman exercised her right to take legal action for the denial of essential accommodations needed to adequately do her job while pregnant at her south suburban police department. She recently filed a federal lawsuit with the U.S. Employment Equal Opportunity Commission alleging that the village violated the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act after enduring a series of unfair events brought about by the police department throughout the first five months of her pregnancy.
Jennifer Panattoni is a 14-year veteran senior patrol officer. In her lawsuit, she recounts that she requested to be assigned to a non-patrol position upon initially finding out she was pregnant. The police chief, John Burica, denied the request with no explanation. Although she was confused by the outright rejection, she continued to work patrol. But as time progressed and the baby grew, her original uniform vest became too tight and the 25-pound duty belt that officers were required to wear began to uncomfortably squeeze against her abdomen.
Three months into Panattoni's pregnancy, she requested to be placed on modified duty, which consisted of record-keeping or staying in the department to take in-house complaints from the public. These positions are commonly reserved for officers who are harmed on the job. Much like the other inquiry, this too was denied.
It was at five months pregnant that she decided to provide a note from her doctor advising that she be assigned to clerical work and provided with accommodations. When the department received this recommendation, they immediately placed Panattoni on leave without pay - an act that depleted every minute of her sick and personal time, and ultimately caused her to withdraw disability benefits from her police pension. The money she withdrew only amounted to about half of her typical salary. She returned to work 10 weeks after her son was born.
Panattoni says that she decided to sue the department because she wants to have another child someday and that she shouldn't be penalized for doing so. She says that she also wants to continue the career she's grown to enjoy without being mistreated.
“I want to be able to retire here,” she said. "I don't feel that I should have to quit my job in order to have a family.”
Experienced Illinois Employment Discrimination Attorneys
If you believe that you have experienced discrimination by an employer based on your gender, race, age or sexual orientation, you should consult with an attorney. The legal professionals at Benassi & Benassi are dedicated to protecting your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.