Town of Cromwell Forced Pregnant Police Officer Onto Unpaid Leave
HARTFORD – The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut today filed a pregnancy discrimination charge against the town of Cromwell, Connecticut on behalf of police officer Sarah Alicea. The complaint was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). It alleges that Cromwell violated Alicea’s rights under federal and Connecticut law when the Town refused to temporarily modify Alicea’s job duties, and instead forced her to take unpaid leave for the last four months of her pregnancy.
“As a woman in law enforcement, I have become accustomed to being the minority, but one thing that I did not anticipate was the unfair treatment I endured just because I decided to become a mother,” said Alicea. “After my husband and I learned that we were expecting our ﬁrst child, we were ecstatic. Our excitement soon turned into anger and frustration at how my department and the Town of Cromwell treated me. This roller coaster of emotions and uncertainty has added an enormous amount of stress to what should be the happiest time in my life.”
Previously a police officer in New London, Alicea has worked for four years in the Cromwell department as a patrol officer and, and during the academic year serves as a school resource officer. Her husband is a combat-wounded veteran and Alicea is her family’s primary breadwinner. When she notified the Cromwell police chief and town manager of her pregnancy and the physical restrictions imposed by her doctor, the Town refused to discuss a temporary alternative job assignment, and instead forced Alicea to take immediate leave without pay. In contrast, the Town assures that officers injured on the job who are not able to perform their usual duties still receive their full salaries.
“We are disappointed that Cromwell’s management hasn’t stepped out of the 1950s and into the 21st century,” said Dan Barrett, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut and an attorney on the case. “Cromwell clearly violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws by denying Sarah her paycheck while she was pregnant. A woman’s employer should never discriminate against her for choosing to grow or start a family.”
Federal law requires covered employers, including public employers such as police departments, to treat pregnant workers the same way they treat other workers who are “similar in their ability or inability to work,” while Connecticut law goes even further, requiring employers to “make a reasonable effort to transfer a pregnant employee to any suitable temporary position which may be available.” Alicea proposed numerous law enforcement duties she could have performed safely while pregnant, but the Town rejected those alternatives.
“This case, in addition to seeking justice for Officer Alicea, is fundamentally about a woman’s right to equally participate in society,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “If having a baby means losing a paycheck, the playing field will never be even.”
The ACLU has previously succeeded in similar pregnancy discrimination cases, including a federal jury’s verdict against a Suffolk County, New York police department in 2006, finding the department discriminated against women officers by denying them access to limited duty positions, like working the precinct desk, during their pregnancies; and a settlement in 2013 of its complaint against the Wallingford, Connecticut police department on behalf of police officer Annie Balcastro, whom the department denied a “light duty” assignment while she was pregnant.
A copy of the charge filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is available here.