The State Worker

Judge orders California prisons to give light-duty to pregnant correctional officers

A judge on Friday ordered California prisons to make light-duty assignments available to six correctional officers who sued the state after they were denied common accommodations while they were pregnant.

The temporary injunction in the class action lawsuit applies only to the six women who filed the case in Los Angeles Superior Court. A hearing is scheduled in December that could expand the order to all female guards at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The women who filed the case are “very happy,” said their attorney, Arnold Peter.

The corrections department until 2015 allowed pregnant officers to work light-duty assignments, according to the lawsuit.

That changed for reasons the department has not explained, compelling pregnant state employees to either take a leave absence, continue working in physically demanding jobs that could risk their babies’ health or transfer to a different position with potentially lower pay and benefits.

“These six female correctional officers bravely chose to challenge a policy that is not only illegal, it is heartless and dangerous, threatening the safety of both the staff and inmates throughout California’s prison system,” Peter said in a written statement. “Each of them deserves our gratitude for their courage to step forward and speak out against an inequitable policy.”

The women he’s representing work at Centinela State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison and California Medical Facility. One of them, Raquel Chanelo, has worked for state prisons since 2002.

Peter said one of the women is pregnant. The ruling from Judge Elihu Berle directs the state to give the others light-duty assignments if they become pregnant in the future.

At least two other women have sued the corrections department over the policy. One of them was Sarah Coogle, whose baby was still born in 2017. The birth followed an incident in which Coogle fell at work during the seventh month of her pregnancy, she told The Sacramento Bee in April.

The corrections department declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.

The department “takes this issue seriously and is evaluating its current policies and procedures,” department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

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