A female corrections officer assigned to the all-male super maximum area of the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi while pregnant, today filed a civil lawsuit accusing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) of disability discrimination and violation of the Fair Housing and Employment Act .
The suit is seeking unspecified damages after the officer, Sarah Coogle, lost her unborn baby while acting to stop an altercation among prisoners.
“This case is about gender inequality in the workplace and the tragic price one woman had to pay in order to secure her position on the playing field,” said Arnold P. Peter, attorney for the plaintiff. “The callous indifference exhibited by the CDCR and the State of California placed Sarah in the impossible position of choosing between her career and her family. No man would ever be asked to make this terrible choice.”
In the lawsuit, Coogle was a corrections officer at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi [cdcr.ca.gov] in December, 2016 . She became pregnant and claims that she asked her Return To Work Coordinator for the reasonable accommodation of alternate work in a less strenuous position due to her pregnancy. Coogle was concerned about the possibility of needing to use physical force in a confrontation to subdue a prisoner, resulting in an injury to her unborn child, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Coogle claims she was given three options:
- Stay in her current position and work until five (5) weeks before her due date
- Accept a demotion which would mean a two-thirds cut in pay, loss of peace officer status, loss of seniority, loss of benefits and loss of right ot bid for shifts
- Take leave as an accommodation
Coogle claims that in late February 2017, she asked her union representative to assist in getting alternate work. According to the lawsuit, Coogle was told that prison officials treat pregnancy as a “planned illness” much the same as having elective surgery.
According to the complaint, Coogle was capable of performing the essential functions of her job, but couldn't afford to go on leave or lose her benefits.
When she was seven months pregnant, Coogle was running to stop a fight among inmates, according to the lawsuit. She fell and was taken by ambulance to the hospital with abdominal pain. Her physician directed her to not work for the duration of her pregnancy, according to the lawsuit.
A few days before her due date in September, 2017, Coogle lost her baby due to a placental rupture which is commonly caused by trauma such as a fall, according to the complaint. She almost died and was on life support for two days, the lawsuit claims.
“I knew that I was signing up for a dangerous job but my baby did not,” Coogle said. “I want to make sure that no woman working for the CDCR ever faces the sorrow and loss I must live with for the rest of my life.”
23ABC News reached out to the CDCR and they're not commenting on the investigation or lawsuit.