California female prison guards suing for safer work conditions when pregnant

TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KABC) -- Female prison guards want safer work conditions when they are pregnant and they're suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide accommodations.

Lead plaintiff Sarah Coogle says her baby Mackenzie Lee died in utero after violence broke out at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi and she was required to respond.

"I was running to a fight and I fell and that's what caused my placental rupture that took my baby's life from me," said Coogle.

Mothers employed as prison guards appeared in court Wednesday with the babies they carried to term despite the obstacles.

The class action lawsuit claims discrimination on the basis of sex, violations of the Federal Housing and Employment Act and denial of pregnancy disability rights, among other claims.

The women say that they want the option for lighter duty, without a cut in pay, if their condition demands it.

"Women are unique in the fact that we bring life in the world and if unique policies need to be in place to protect that life, I don't see why they can't do that," said Coogle.

In a Superior Court hearing Wednesday, the CDCR lawyer argued that solutions are complicated. If pregnant women are allowed light duty, other guards with medical problems might also want lighter assignments, potentially setting the stage for more discrimination complaints, they said.

The plaintiffs say that they are fighting bureaucracy.

"What we are asking CDCR to do is to not treat pregnant women in a special way, but like every other form of disability, which is on an interactive case-by-case basis," says lawyer Arnold Peter.

The court requested the Department of Corrections to submit a specific plan in two weeks as plaintiffs maintain that unborn children of prison guards face a clear and present danger.
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