In March 2014, Police Officer Akema Thompson filed a pregnancy discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the New York Police Department (NYPD) for refusing to reschedule her Civil Service exam date to accommodate her due date, the NYPD routinely allows applicants to reschedule exams to accommodate other contingencies including religious celebrations and disabilities.
Officer Thompson, an NYPD employee since 2010, was eager to advance her career, by becoming a sergeant which requires taking the civil service. In 2013 the NYPD informed its officers that the civil service exam would be offered for the first time in two years on October 19, 2013, many officers, including Officer Thompson, were eager for the opportunity. She immediately signed up for a prep course, which cost $769. After a month of preparing for the exam, Officer Thompson found out she was pregnant and due to give birth on October 19, 2013, the same date as the exam. Despite this unexpected news, Officer Thompson was not at all deterred because she knew of many officers whom the NYPD permitted to reschedule their exam dates.
In June 2013, Officer Thompson emailed New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, notifying them of the conflict and requesting a makeup date. 2 days later city officials denied Officer Thompson’s request, stating only that it was “not approvable.” Officer Thompson was troubled and confused, as she recalled the many times that she saw officers approved for a makeup exam for religious events that conflicted with exam dates. Officer Thompson asked the NYPD under what circumstances a makeup exam would be “approvable.” The city officials sent her a list of exceptions, including military duty and physical disability. That list did not include absence due to pregnancy or complications following pregnancy.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” be treated the same as other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Pregnancy discrimination continues to hold back women in the labor force, as evidenced by the 1,376 charges that women filed alleging pregnancy discrimination in 2013 with the EEOC.
Many male-dominated careers frequently have outdated policies that fail to account for the unique issues that confront women in the workforce. These policies, which often go unchanged until challenged, hamstring women’s employment opportunities; employers that fail to provide the same accommodation for pregnant women as other similarly situated individuals restrict women’s employment prospects and disincentives them from pursuing such careers. A Union official from Officer Thompson’s union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, similarly stated, “An opportunity afforded to so many others is not only unfair, it is also unlawful.”
In the end, Officer Thompson gave birth 3 days before the exam and was still in the hospital the day of the exam recovering from a cesarean section. After she filed her discrimination charge with the EEOC, the city settled the case, agreeing to pay Officer Thompson $50,000 and allowing her to take a makeup exam in January. Additionally, the NYPD altered its policy to include women with pregnancy and childbirth related conditions to the list of exceptions for makeup exams.
Officer Thompson’s win opens the doors for female officers to have an equal opportunity to advance in their careers. If you believe your employer discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.