They struggled to put on their tight uniforms. Their bulletproof vests no longer covered their midriffs. It was hard to breathe with the restrictive clothing.
Florence police officers Lyndi Trischler and Samantha Riley said they were in pain every day on the job, but they had only two choices: patrol the streets of Florence in 10-hour shifts while pregnant, or stay home without pay.
Late in their pregnancies in 2014, both had expected a “modified” job, such as desk work, but a new policy in the Northern Kentucky city required no modified or light duty for non-work-related injuries, illness or other conditions.
With the help of A Better Balance, a legal center focused on work and family issues, the two officers filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC ruled for the women, prompting the city to offer a $135,000 settlement and reverse its policy regarding pregnant workers.
Still on the Florence police force, Trischler and Riley now are central figures in a bill in this year’s legislative session sponsored by state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, known as the Kentucky Pregnant Workers’ Rights Act.
Senate Bill 38 spells out “reasonable accommodations” that employers must provide pregnant workers, including more frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous job, and private space that is not a bathroom for breast feeding. Failing to make those accommodations would be illegal unless the employer can demonstrate that they would produce an undue hardship on the business.
Kerr said the bill does not contain penalties because it mirrors federal legislation: “Having it as state law would motivate employers even more to accommodate their pregnant workers to avoid any complaints.”
The bill’s supporters include the March of Dimes, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the Kentucky Chapter of the ACLU. It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he is studying the proposal.
“I’m trying to catch up on the litigation in the Florence case, and I want to look at what other states have done,” Westerfield said. “Some of it may be duplicative with federal law, but I tend to support it. From what I know, the Florence case was poorly handled, so why not have a law to state pregnant workers have rights?”
Twenty-two states, four cities and the District of Columbia have adopted legislation similar to Kerr’s, said Elizabeth Gedmark, a Nashville attorney with A Better Balance who helped the two Florence police officers win their discrimination complaint. She also is working with Kerr on this year’s legislation.
The 1964 federal Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on gender and a 1978 amendment to it says woman can’t be fired for being pregnant. The federal laws are proper, “but we still see thousands of cases of problems with pregnant workers pop up across the country,” Gedmark said. “Sen. Kerr’s bill prevents problems before they are started. It outlines policies for all.”
Gedmark got involved in the Florence case when a sister of Trischler saw a New York Times column about A Better Balance and called the organization for help.
Trischler, 34, has been fighting crime in Florence since 2011.
Before her first child was born in July 2013, Trischler was given a desk job as her due date neared. With her second child the next year, it was “completely different.”
“I was told there was a new city directive. I never had heard of it,” she said. “I couldn’t stay at home that long without pay.”
She got a bigger belt, but it soon became too small.
“Most of my male colleagues were sympathetic because many of them are dads,” she said. “And they really weren’t thrilled about riding with a partner who could barely get into the car and they felt they had to protect us.”
The worst problem for Trischler was her baby’s health. She was told that the baby had a skeletal abnormality that couldn’t support his lungs and that he would die within hours after being born.
She held her baby, Luca, for 2 1/2 hours before he died. “He was beautiful. A cutie.”
Riley, 33, was pregnant with her first child in 2014.
“I had some sick days saved up, but I had the same work problems as Lyndi,” she said. “We would talk about what we were going through.”
In 2017, when Riley had a second child, there were no problems at work, she said.
“We’re pleased now to try to make sure every pregnant woman in Kentucky knows she has rights on the job,” Trischler said.
What happens in Lexington?
Lexington’s police department has a written policy for sworn officers regarding pregnancy, spokeswoman Brenna Angel said.
“This policy seeks to ensure a woman’s right to work free from discrimination and to protect the property interest she has in her job, while guarding against the risks inherent in the performance of her duties,” it says.
The policy establishes procedures to modify full-duty assignments and, when needed, to provide temporary, alternative-duty assignments to eligible pregnant officers when they are unable to safely perform all of the essential functions of their normal assignments.