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An attorney on maternal leave was denied her request to postpone an immigration hearing in Atlanta, and had to litigate with her baby strapped to her chest. Then, she was berated by the judge, who refused to delay the hearing, for bringing her child to court.
As soon as Stacy Ehrisman-Mickle agreed to work with two brothers on an immigration case in September, she filed a request to delay the hearing, set for October 7, so that she could complete her six-week maternal leave. Ehrisman-Mickle believed the presiding judge would accept the request, since two other judges presiding over separate cases agreed to push back their hearings in response to letters from her doctor. But Immigration Judge J. Dan Pelletier Sr. turned down her request, claiming, “No good cause. Hearing date set prior to counsel accepting representation.”
Because Ehrisman-Mickle’s truck-driving husband was out of town for work, and she did not have relatives close-by, she was forced to bring her 4-week-old baby to the hearing. Following instructions from her child’s pediatrician, she strapped her daughter to her chest during the hearing, but the baby began to cry. Ehrisman-Mickle was then criticized by Pelletier, in front of everyone at the hearing, for bringing her baby to court. Pelletier told her that her behavior was inappropriate, and that Ehrisman-Mickle’s pediatrician would be displeased, since the baby was exposed to the court’s germs.
The judge eventually agreed to delay the hearing, and Ehrisman-Mickle immediately filed a complaint against him.
In most courts, dates are routinely moved to accommodate the schedule of lawyers, including for vacations. And although the court does not employ her directly, the incident does raise questions about the state of maternity leave in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, “forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.” And yet, the U.S. is one of three countries, out of 185, that does not guarantee paid maternal leave. In fact, they are only guaranteed 12 unpaid weeks off, if they work at a company with 50 employees or more for a certain amount of time. But only 12 percent of workers in the country are granted paid family leave, and 25 percent of women have to resign from their jobs in order to take care of a new child.