Firefighter sues over pregnancy-related sick days

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut firefighter says in a federal civil rights lawsuit that she was unfairly disciplined by a city fire department and forced to take unpaid leave because she was pregnant.

Bridgeport firefighter Regina Scates said in her lawsuit in U.S. District Court that the department's actions violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.

The 37-year-old Scates alleges she was unfairly disciplined last year for taking pregnancy-related sick days and then forced to take an unpaid maternity leave, despite allowances for unlimited paid sick leave for non-pregnancy-related physical disabilities. She said she was still capable of working when she was placed on leave.

She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

"They treat pregnancy leave different than they treat other injury or sick leave," said her attorney, Thomas Bucci. "Our claim is that is a discriminatory practice. A change in that policy is one of the things we'd like to see come of this lawsuit."

Scates was placed on administrative duty after she provided the department with a doctor's note in May 2013. The note informed the city that she should not be lifting anything over 35 pounds or working any shift longer than eight hours during the remainder of her pregnancy, according to the lawsuit filed Friday.

She was then given verbal and written warnings in August after taking seven sick days, something the department termed as "excessive absences."

"The defendant's conduct was even more outrageous because it was fully aware that the plaintiff was pregnant and had been absent due to her pregnancy related condition," Bucci wrote in the lawsuit.

Scates, who gave birth in January, says she was involuntarily removed from administrative duty and forced to take unpaid maternity leave Sept. 1, 2013. She believes she could have continued her "light-duty" work for at least two more months, her attorney wrote.

The city later changed the leave to a paid sick leave, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, after Scates complained, according to the lawsuit.

Scates alleges that because she was placed on maternity leave early she was forced to exhaust that paid leave before her child was born.

William Kaempffer, the city's public safety spokesman, said the lawsuit will be addressed "at the appropriate time, manner and forum."

"However," he said, "we're very cognizant of complying with the law. She never missed a single day of pay either during her pregnancy or since she had her child."

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