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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Justice Department Settles Second Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Against the Davie, Florida, Fire Department

The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a consent decree with the town of Davie, Florida, to resolve allegations that the Davie Fire Department discriminated against firefighter/paramedic Lori Davis because of her pregnancy and retaliated against firefighter/paramedic Monica Santana because she complained about gender discrimination.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion.  

According to the Justice Department, the consent decree resolves allegations of disparate treatment based on pregnancy that resulted from light duty policies implemented by the Davie Fire Department.  In 2012, the Department of Justice challenged those discriminatory light duty policies in a related pattern or a practice Title VII case resulting in the filing of a complaint and consent decree to resolve the case.  The consent decree entered by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida required that the fire department abandon its existing discriminatory light duty policies and adopt new, non-discriminatory policies.  This new complaint is the result of individual charges of discrimination referred to the Justice Department by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.   

As alleged by the Justice Department in this complaint, Davis worked for the Davie Fire Department under its prior policies and was adversely affected by those policies which were implemented in violation of Title VII.  Under Title VII, discrimination based on sex includes discrimination due to pregnancy, and requires that women affected by pregnancy be treated the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  Under federal law, an employer may not retaliate against employees because they complain about discrimination based on sex.

As alleged in the complaint, Davis’s doctor wanted Davis on light duty during her pregnancy.  The fire department’s policy, however, would not allow her light duty during her first trimester.  Davis continued to work and eventually was required to fight a fire while pregnant.  She suffered a miscarriage after doing so.  The complaint also alleges that Santana complained about other policies and practices at the fire department that she reasonably believed discriminated against female firefighters.  After she complained about the discriminatory treatment, the fire department responded to her complaints by taking adverse actions against her designed to discourage similar complaints.                       

The consent decree, filed simultaneously with the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida must still be approved by the federal court.  Under the terms of the agreement, the fire department must review and adopt appropriate anti-retaliation policies to protect its employees from further violations of Title VII and conduct training of its personnel to ensure that they properly handle future complaints under Title VII.  The fire department must also pay monetary awards to compensate Davis, Santana, and two other similarly-situated, pregnant firefighters.  The total monetary awards to all four women will exceed $400,000.  

“Every day, expectant mothers after consulting with their doctors make difficult decisions about how and, more importantly, when to restrict their work duties due to pregnancy,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division is firmly committed to vigorous enforcement of Title VII’s prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination and retaliation so that women can make decisions regarding their pregnancies and try to remedy discriminatory treatment without fear of unwarranted repercussions in the work place after doing so.”

“Firefighters are dedicated public servants who put their lives at risk every day to protect the citizens of our community,” said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida.  “We are committed to enforcing the federal laws that protect expectant mothers against discrimination so that they will not be forced to choose between their job and their decision to have a family.”

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/.

Updated August 26, 2015