When Officer Lyndi Trischler became pregnant in late 2012, no one else in her Florence, Kentucky police department had ever been pregnant before. There were only two women in a department of 65 officers. So there were no policies for how to handle a pregnant employee, and she had to carve them out for herself.
It took a fight, but for her first pregnancy she was able to get the city administration to allow her to go on light duty in the latter part of her pregnancy, which meant she wouldn’t have to wear heavy equipment or go out on patrol but could still keep working from the office. She worked right up until the day she went into labor.
But everything had changed by her second pregnancy two years later. At four months pregnant, she asked to again take light duty. She was told that in the intervening time, unbeknownst to her, the city had issued a directive rescinding its use for pregnant workers, restricting it only to those with on-the-job injuries. She was told she’d have to use up all of her paid time off and then go on unpaid leave when that ran out, forfeiting her health insurance.
“It was really scary, because I had already had a baby, I know how expensive it is to have a kid. Just the medical bills alone,” she said. At that meeting, she recalled, “The financial director of the city told me if I had planned properly that I wouldn’t have put myself in this position… I don’t think it was right for her to say that to me.”
“It was really scary…I know how expensive it is to have a kid.”
Trischler ended up having to move in with her sister to save money. She worked until she was five and a half months pregnant and couldn’t get her equipment on any longer.
Then things got even worse. Doctors found that her son had physical problems, which were not just threatening to his health but would be more expensive. “It was just a snowball effect, it got scarier and scarier the closer it got to the delivery,” she said.
The worst came to pass: Trischler lost her baby. “That just compounded it so bad,” she said. “This was a really, really bad year… Not having the support of my employer, it was devastating.”
Nothing can undo the harm of that dark time for Trischler. But there is one positive outcome of her ordeal. Last week, the city of Florence and the Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a landmark agreement that requires the city to allow pregnant officers to take light duty, just as it had allowed employees with on-the-job injuries to do.
Trischler and another officer with the Florence Police Department who filed a similar complaint, Samantha Riley, will also get $135,000 as part of the agreement.
“Not having the support of my employer, it was devastating.”
It couldn’t come a moment too soon for Officer Riley.
When she and her wife got married in 2012, they wanted to have a baby right away, but it was before Trischler had put the policies to the test and Riley was worried about being the guinea pig. When she inquired about what would happen, she said, “I was told, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with you.’ It was enough to scare me away from attempting to get pregnant… I’m not set up financially to do that.” Riley’s wife works as a retail manager making about $13 an hour, but even with their two incomes the couple lives paycheck to paycheck.
So Riley held off and watched what happened to Trischler. She felt reassured by her coworker’s initial use of light duty, but then the directive cut pregnant employees off.
Riley and her wife decided to get pregnant anyway, and she started planning everything down the smallest detail. She saved up just enough sick and vacation time so that if she worked until 26 weeks of pregnancy, she would have enough paid time to make it through her labor and delivery. “It was a lot of planning,” she noted.
But even the best laid plans can be difficult to pull off. Around 18 weeks, it became painful to put on the required equipment to go out on patrols, including a 15-pound belt and a bullet-proof vest. She had to buy a bigger belt, as well as a bigger shirt and pants. “Even something as simple as sitting in a car driving around with the belt pushing on my belly and the vest pushing on top, it was excruciating at times,” she said. “From 18 weeks to 26 weeks were probably the worst time physically.”
“It was excruciating at times.”
On top of all of that, she was going out on calls that were often dangerous. “The physical pain and emotional strain…became a lot to deal with,” she said.
So she deeply appreciates the new agreement reached with the city, especially because she’s currently pregnant with her second child. She got pregnant in May and was granted light duty in mid-September.
“Not having to go through this a second time is completely worth everything that I’ve been through so far,” she said. Now she can wear comfortable business casual maternity clothes and work from the office answering calls and reports. “It’s night and day.”
The significance will reach beyond Officers Trischler and Riley. There’s already a third woman in their department who’s pregnant. “Knowing that she’s not going to go through what Lyndi and I had to go through gives me great satisfaction,” Riley said. “That for me is most meaningful.”
It could also have important implications outside of their city and even their state. The officers’ charges were both originally filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found probable cause of discrimination and recommended them to the Department of Justice since it has jurisdiction over municipalities like Florence.
The fact that the DOJ took it on in itself is significant. “Only a small percentage of cases are taken up by the Department of Justice at all, and very few pregnancy discrimination cases,” said Elizabeth Gedmark, a staff attorney at A Better Balance, the organization that helped the officers bring their charges.
After the Supreme Court sided with a pregnant employee in 2015 who sued UPS for discriminating against her pregnancy when she was refused light duty that was offered to other injured and disabled employees, the DOJ decision in Florence helps clarify the implications. It’s “a landmark decision for other employers to take note that the Department of Justice is taking on these types of cases and enforcing them,” Gedmark said. “This agreement is extremely important and precedent-setting because it really hammers home that employers have to treat pregnant workers the same as other workers.”
“It’s a victory for a lot of pregnant workers across the country.”
“It’s a victory for a lot of pregnant workers across the country,” she added. “We see this as having far-reaching implications for employers in different industries.”
That’s incredibly important in today’s economy, where two-thirds of first-time mothers work during their pregnancies. Pregnancy discrimination, despite running afoul of existing laws, is incredibly widespread. There were nearly 31,000 charges filed with the EEOC and state agencies between 2010 and 2015, across all industries and in every state, according to a new analysis by the National Partnership for Women & Families released on Monday. Nearly a third claimed that the women had been fired for becoming pregnant, while more than 650 charges were for being denied simple accommodations to continue working, like bathroom breaks or sitting on a stool.
That data, coupled with the experiences of Officers Trischler and Riley, illuminate why advocates have been pushing for a national law to clarify pregnant worker’s rights. Had Kentucky had a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in place, as many states do, justice would likely have been swifter. Such laws require employers to offer pregnant workers accommodations so they can stay on the job unless those changes would be seriously detrimental to business.
The officers “had to go through this ordeal for almost two and a half years now,” Gedmark said. With a PWFA, “Officer Trischler and Officer Riley could have just pointed to the law and said, ‘You have to accommodate us as pregnant workers,’ and that would have really smoothed the process.”
The process was arduous, particularly in the middle of such a difficult personal experience for Trischler. But she felt that bringing the charge was something she had to do. “I knew it would be really hard,” she said. “But I felt very strongly it was the right thing to do.”
And the outcome is just what she was hoping for. “I’m really proud of it,” she said.