Something is rotten in the state of Georgia: narcotics K-9 officer Ruth Hernandez was fired by the city of Thomsen, Georgia after getting pregnant.
According to WAGT-TV, Ruth Hernandez became pregnant with her second child and told her superiors that she couldn’t perform her duties until November 11 (eight months from now). Obviously if she is pregnant, it is ill-advised for her be in dangerous positions that cops can find themselves in. Fortunately, by federal law, if an employee cannot perform a duty because of a disability — which is how pregnancy is viewed by the law — the employer is supposed to try to find a similar job that he or she can do. For instance, Thomson, Georgia, was hiring for a secretary, which is a desk position, in its fire department. However, Ruth Hernandez says she was never offered the secretarial position. Nor did the city of Thomson offer her a leave. Instead, she was fired by Thomson PD, which said in a statement to WAGT, it was “unable to hold her position vacant for the length of time requested.” Her police car and her K-9 dog have been given to another officer and Ruth is now unemployed.
I call bulls**t. The Thomson city attorney released a statement to WAGT on Friday explaining its behavior:
Ms. Ruth Hernandez was employed by the City of Thomson as a sworn police officer. She recently provided the City with documentation indicating that she currently is unable to perform her duties as a patrol officer. The City took steps to determine at what point Ms. Hernandez would be able resume her duties, and Ms. Hernandez provided additional documentation indicating that she could not perform her duties as a patrol officer until November 2011 at the earliest.
The City has since provided Ms. Hernandez all of the leave available under the City’s policies and because she was only employed by the City for almost 10 months prior to her separation, the City was unable to offer her additional leave under the FMLA [Jessica's Note: 12 weeks are required by law.]. Unfortunately, the City was also unable to hold her position vacant for the length of time requested because it needs to fill the position so that the Police Department can continue to provide adequate safety and protection to the citizens of Thomson.
The City also explored alternative duty and none was available. The City of Thomson did not take this action lightly and consulted with legal counsel throughout this process before making its decision, ensuring that the organization was in compliance with its policies and all applicable law.
Oh, maternity leave. How screwed up you are in America.
What difference does it make whether she was only employed by the police department for 10 months before she got pregnant? She intended to work until she took maternity leave and then return to her old job after that. Instead, her bosses just said “no.” That’s blatantly discriminatory.
Why the hastiness to fire Ruth Hernandez? Women are not pregnant for years and years of their lives. (Well, except for the Duggars. But most people are not the Duggars.) She cannot perform her duties for the next eight months; after that, she is able to perform them once again (assuming she has her doctor’s approval, as you would expect with anyone who has taken time off for health reasons). If you consider the fact that the average career is 40 years or so, eight months of accommodating someone’s temporary needs is nothing. A pregnancy and maternity leave are not permanent conditions, just like it wouldn’t be a permanent condition if a male employee, for example, broke his back and needed to be on bed rest for six months. If a guy who broke his back needed to alter the terms of his employment and/or take time off work, you’d look like a dick if you up and fired him. It’s no different if you do that to a pregnant lady.
By not being flexible about the time off that Ruth needs — not to fritter away the hours on a Caribbean cruise, mind you, but birth a human being — the Thomson PD is discriminating against her for being a childbearing woman. Not to mention they are shooting their own selves in the foot by 1) having to hire a replacement, and 2) sending a signal to all current and future female employees of the Thomson PD that getting knocked up will cause you problems.
An employment attorney contacted by WAGT news said it is “clear” to him that the city of Thomson violated The Pregnancy Leave Act and The Family Medical Leave Act (I’m assuming because they fired her instead of working with her situation). Frankly, it looks to me like wanted to get rid of her — whether because she was a woman, a mom, or because of her personality is unclear — and they used her pregnancy as an opportunity. Had they wanted to keep her, there are so ways they could have done so: a desk job or a leave. This, let me repeat, is bulls**t. [UPDATE: As commenter Saatl points out, the FMLA applies to employees that have been with the company for 12 months, which Hernandez was not, if the company has at least 50 employees. I am unsure whether the Thomson PD had 50 or more employees (guessing yes based on lawyer's comments) or whether the FMLA applies differently to public services, like a PD. There may be specific laws in Georgia which I do now know about. If anyone can enlighten us in the comments, let us know.]
Fight this, Ruth Hernandez!
[Department of Labor: Family And Medical Leave Act]
[U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act]
[UPDATE: HRhero.com Family And Medical Leave Act]