Half a dozen correctional officers throughout California are following in Tehachapi resident Sarah Coogle’s footsteps and suing the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for an alleged lack of accommodations for pregnant officers.
Coogle filed her lawsuit last October alleging that responding to an inmate fight at the Tehachapi prison while pregnant led to an injury that caused the death of her unborn child. Since then, six more female officers have come forward as part of a class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court last month by Peter Law Group in Manhattan Beach, which also represents Coogle.
Coogle couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday. CDCR said it could not comment on litigation.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs are claiming that they were also denied reasonable accommodations for their pregnancies.
“The women bringing this case today...have been forced to make extremely difficult choices that no man in the same role would ever have to make,” said Arnold Peter, the officers’ attorney. “The CDCR has shown callous indifference towards their own female employees who have requested nothing more than reasonable accommodations during their pregnancies. It is high time to put a halt to this archaic practice and give these brave individuals the full benefits they deserve.”
The plaintiffs in the suit have been identified as:
- Racquel Chanelo, 38, a sergeant at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano.
- Jacqueline Carreon, 31, a correctional officer at Centinela State Prison in Imperial, CA.
- Geneva Carter, 28, another officer at Centinela State Prison.
- Karen Lang, 38, another officer at Centinela State Prison.
- Melissa Glaude, 36, a medical technical assistant at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
- Angela Powell, 32, another officer at the California Medical Facility.
Peter said the CDCR had a policy in place prior to 2015 in which light-duty positions were designated to pregnant officers. The low-risk positions have minimal exposure to inmates and are intended for officers who have a medical condition.
In 2015, however, Peter said a new ”discriminatory and irrational” policy was put in place which limited light-duty positions to no longer than 60 days within a six-month period.
The provision is not applicable to pregnant officers, as pregnancy does not meet the two-month requirement, Peter said.
Instead, pregnant officers are given the option to stay in their current position, take a demotion or do a combination of paid and unpaid leave, according to the lawsuit.
“We’re hoping that by filing this lawsuit, it will once and for all put a stop to this illegal practice,” Peter said. “If the LA county court agrees with us like Kern County did in the Coogle case, it will have a statewide impact.”
Peter said the LA County Superior Court is set to consider a preliminary injunction on May 23.
The plaintiffs’ perspective
Carreon, a plaintiff in the case who has worked at Centinela State Prison in Imperial since 2015, said she immediately notified CDCR when she became pregnant and was given the three options Peter listed.
She opted to continue working and laster miscarried her baby. However, when she became pregnant again in 2016, she opted to take unpaid leave.
“I chose to do this because I didn’t want to risk losing my baby,” she said.
She believes it’s not right that women have to choose between staying at work or losing pay or facing a demotion and that this needs to be changed for existing and future officers.
“I don’t want any of my past experiences to happen to other female officers,” she said.
Coogle’s experiences negotiating pregnancy accommodation had a more tragic end. Coogle decided to stay in her position — which requires her to meet all the essential functions of a correctional officer, including running and disarming inmates when needed — because she couldn’t afford to go on leave or lose her benefits and peace officer status.
In summer 2018, when she was seven months pregnant, Coogle said she fell on the ground while responding to an inmate fight and suffered abdominal pain. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance, where it was determined that no harm had come to the baby. However, later in the pregnancy, doctors discovered a placental rupture due to the fall and her baby was stillborn.
Last October, Kern County Judge Thomas Clark approved a preliminary injunction filed by Peter prohibiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from applying its policy against Coogle.
Coogle’s case is set to return to the Kern County court on Aug. 16 for a mandatory settlement conference. A tentative trial date has been set for Sept. 16.