Fighting Pregnancy Discrimination in the California Department of Corrections

Jacqueline Carreon, Geneva Carter, Racquel Chanelo, Melissa Glaude, Karen Lang and Angela Powell range in age from 28 to 38. They work in prisons across the state of California. During their pregnancies, they all requested legally required accommodations from their employers.

Typically, such an occasion would see them reassigned to light-duty assignments—flexible, low-impact activity that would give them the ability to work and receive pay but adhere to their doctors’ recommendations. But according to court documents, they were all asked by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to make an impossible choice instead: They could either continue working and assume personal liability for any injury that may occur, accept a demotion that would lessen their pay and standing or take a combination of paid and unpaid leave to make do in the meantime.

Last week, the six female correction officers made their decision. They filed a class-action pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the CDCR.

According to data from the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women & Policing, the most common complaint from sworn female officers is that they are removed from their position when they notify their bosses they are pregnant—and that “there are sometimes no efforts to find light duty positions for pregnant women.”

“In California, and nationwide, the numbers of women in law enforcement are kept artificially low by widespread discriminatory hiring and selection practices, and by discriminatory personnel policies like the CDCR’s pregnancy policy,” Katherine Spillar, executive director of the FMF’s NCWP, said in a statement. “We are in awe of the California correctional officers of diverse experience and background who have shown selfless courage to take a stand against a policy that cannot be justified and runs contrary to practices in modern law enforcement.”

The California lawsuit underscores national issues regarding gender inequality in the workplace, especially for women who work in traditionally male-dominated fields. California is second only to Texas in the number of corrections officers in the state; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 14 percent of Bureau of Prisons officers were female as of 2010.

Advocates know there is a better way forward. “Temporary duty assignments,” the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Foundation explained in a 2016 report, “should be viewed as important to attaining the goals and objectives of an agency, and not seen as or used as punishment.” The report, “Transforming Law Enforcement by Changing the Face of Policing,” focused specifically on hiring and retaining women and minority workers in the sector.

“The women bringing this case today, along with hundreds of others serving in our prisons right now, have been forced to make extremely difficult choices that no man in the same role would ever have to make,” Arnold P. Peter, the attorney representing the six plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The CDCR has shown callous indifference towards their own female employees who have requested nothing more than reasonable accommodations during their pregnancies. It is high time to put a halt to this archaic practice and give these brave individuals the full benefits they deserve.”

About

Katie Stone is a Ms. editorial intern. Originally from New York, she is currently studying journalism and communication design at the University of Southern California. Katie is the editor of Spoon University at USC and has also been published on Intersections South LA.