The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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February 17, 2014

Judge rules against firefighter's discrimination claim

CLINTON — A Clinton County District Court judge has ruled against a female Clinton firefighter who claimed her rights were violated when superiors refused to put her on light duty while she was pregnant.

"The Court finds that the City's policy does not infringe on Mrs. (Karen) McQuistion's fundamental right to procreate," Clinton County District Court Judge Henry Latham wrote in the 13-page judgment, which was filed late last week.

Serving with the fire department since January 2001, McQuistion became aware that she was pregnant on May 9, 2011. According to the court ruling, she notified her battalion chief, Joel Atkinson, of her pregnancy, requesting to be put on light duty. This includes inspections, water hydrant checks, fire prevention, duties, training assignments and duties with the juvenile fire offender program.

In June 2011, then-Fire Chief Mark Regenwether, former City Attorney Jeffrey Farwell and former City Administrator Jeffrey Horne met to discuss her pregnancy and rejected her request for light duty work. McQuistion stopped working on Sept. 29, 2011 and returned to work on March 14, 2012, with the same pay and benefits she had previously received. She filed her lawsuit on March 28, 2012.

In his ruling, Latham considered pregnancy discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Acts, which requires pregnant employees to be considered as having "temporary disabilities" and that the same terms and conditions are applied as for other temporary disabilities. McQuistion's lawsuit had claimed that the fire department offers light duty to other firefighters with disabilities. However, Latham stated in his ruling that this does not apply to the plaintiff.

"The conditions of the City's policy are clear. If an employee is disabled on the job, the City must provide her with light duty work. If an employee is disabled off the job, the City is not required to provide her light duty work," Latham stated. "McQuistion's disability was acquired off the job."

McQuistion's lawsuit also referenced two Clinton police women who were given light duty during their pregnancies. However, Latham determined McQuistion is not "similarly situated" to the pregnant police officers because police and firefighters fall under different collective bargaining agreements. Since these were the only two city employees that McQuistion had referenced to prove different treatment from the city, Latham denied her equal protection argument.

In her lawsuit, McQuistion argued that the city's policy infringed upon her fundamental right to procreate. Latham disagreed with her and found she was in fact arguing her employer was obligated to provide her with certain advantages that she would not be normally provided "to mitigate the natural disadvantages that come with pregnancy."

"That is not the law," Latham wrote. "If the city had implemented its policy in order to explicitly or implicitly punish female employees for choosing to have children, that policy would infringe on the fundamental right to procreate. In the present case, Mrs. McQuistion has not provided evidence of Defendant's motive to do so."

Attempts to reach McQuistion and her attorney Roxanne Conlin for comment were unsuccessful.

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