Iowa Firefighter Alleges Pregnancy Discrimination Over Denial of Light Duty

A Clinton, Iowa firefighter has filed a gender and pregnancy discrimination suit because she was not granted a light duty position to accommodate her pregnancy.

Karen McQuistion is a firefighter with the Clinton Fire Department who became pregnant last spring. On May 11, 2011 she notified Fire Chief Mark Regenwether, and requested that her condition be accommodated by a transfer to a light duty position. That request was denied due to the financial condition of the city, and McQuistion continued to work on the line until September 29, 2011 when her doctor advised her to take leave.

In October 2011, McQuistion filed discrimination charges against the city with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and received a right to sue letter.

The lawsuit, filed in Clinton County District Court on March 28, 2012, contains three counts: (1) gender and pregnancy discrimination under state law, (2) a violation of the Iowa state constitution’s equal protection clause, and (3) a violation of Iowa constitution’s due process clause. In what is no doubt a strategic move to keep the case out of Federal court, the complaint DOES NOT allege gender discrimination under Federal law, a violation of the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, nor violations of McQuistion’s Federal Constitutional rights.

The suit alleges that Clinton police officers receive light duty accommodations for pregnancies, and that the fire department allows firefighters who are injured on the job to perform light duty, but denies that accommodation to pregnant firefighters.

The suit names City of Clinton, City Attorney Jeffrey Farwell, City Administrator Jeffrey Horne, and Fire Chief Mark Regenwether, who recently retired. It seeks compensatory damages to cover McQuistion’s lost wages, plus punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to punish the defendants and deter the defendants and others from the same or similar wrongful conduct.”

Here is a copy of the complaint. McQuistion v Clinton

As for the law in a nutshell: As a general rule, a pregnant employee cannot force an employer to create a light duty assignment. Thus if a fire department had no light duty positions, a pregnant firefighter would be out of luck. However, if an employer grants employees light duty assignments for medical and other reasons, it cannot refuse to accommodate an employee who seeks a light duty position on the basis of pregnancy.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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