Chicago Fire Settles Pregnancy and Nursing Mothers Lawsuit

The City of Chicago has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a fire department paramedic over how she was treated during her pregnancy and while nursing.

Sarah Spriesch filed suit last year in Cook County Circuit Court accusing the Chicago Fire Department of pregnancy discrimination under state and federal law, sex discrimination under state and federal law, and violation of the Nursing Mother’s Act. The case was removed to US District Court.

According to a post on the ACLU of Illinois web site:

  • [O]nce her managers learned of her pregnancy, Ms. Spriesch was placed on leave, requiring her to exhaust nearly all of her available sick leave time even though she could have continued working with accommodations.
  • When Ms. Spriesch returned to work after childbirth, CFD denied her requests for breaks to express breast milk on her first day back, causing her pain and humiliation when she leaked through her shirt in front of her colleagues.
  • CFD then denied her access to private, non-restroom space for pumping, requiring her to express breast milk in dirty firehouse restrooms for several months, and retaliated against her for complaining about CFD’s violations of the law.
  • After Ms. Spriesch filed her lawsuit, CFD adopted new policies and procedures governing accommodations for employees who are pregnant, recovering from childbirth, or breastfeeding.
  • Since then, Ms. Spriesch became pregnant again; just after settling her complaint, she gave birth to twin babies.
  • She is now on maternity leave and looks forward to having breaks and a clean, private, non-restroom space to pump when she returns to work at CFD in the coming months.

The posting quoted ALCU attorney Amy Meek as saying:

“For far too long, the Chicago Fire Department has subjected female paramedics and firefighters to unequal treatment. No woman should be forced off the job because she is pregnant or denied the ability to pump breast milk for her infant when she returns to work. This settlement, and the new policies adopted by CFD, mark important steps forward for women seeking equal treatment as employees of the City of Chicago.”

The terms of the settlement were not provided. Here is the link to the ACLU statement. 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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