Tehachapi Prison guard files claim for loss of unborn baby

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is facing a civil claim Friday after a female employee said she lost her unborn baby while responding to a call in Tehachapi State Prison.

23ABC spoke to the correctional officer, Sarah Coogle to learn more about what happened that day inside the facility.

On Monday Coogle and her lawyer decided to move forward with their claims against the CDCR. Coogle and her lawyer said this was an act of gender inequality in the workplace, 

"I feel like I have a purpose that you know lose my baby, if I can make some good come from this then it wasn't for nothing,” CDCR Correctional Officer Sarah Coogle said.

Coogle said she fell after a fight broke out in a nearby building between inmates on July 3, 2017. "Our job is to respond to those, the alarm went off we started running." She said she couldn't call for help when she heard the alarm because that was already a call for help. She said she would have faced consequences if she didn't act, even though she was already seven months pregnant.

"Either lose money or be fired for failure to act it was my duty I had to." Coogle said.

Coogle said she fell on her stomach while running toward the call for help.  According to the claim, she was taken to the hospital where she said she was checked out. Coogle said doctors performed an ultrasound and checked the baby's heartbeat.  She was further directed by her doctor to not work for the rest of her pregnancy, according to the claim, "At the time everything appeared to be okay," Coogle said.

She said she took the advice of her doctor to stay home for the rest of her pregnancy but she said over the next few weeks, the pain increased. Then in September, 11 days before her baby was due she said she almost lost her life, "I woke up two days later, they had me on life support."

Coogle said her kidney and respiratory system shut down and she had to be intubated, “I woke up with excruciating pain and ended up going to the hospital and they immediately told me that the baby's heart beat was not there and that the baby was gone."

An accident she and her lawyer Arnold Peter said could have been prevented if CDCR granted her request for lighter duty. Coogle filled a gender discrimination claim this week against the CDCR.

"No man has to risk their child's life to go to work or lose their pay or any of those things," Coogle said.

"All she was asking for was less strenuous duties that are performed by other guards and to avoid inmate contact for a very short period of time," Coogle's Labor and Employment Lawyer Arnold Peter said.

For the last three years, Coogle said she has been an unarmed peace officer responsible for supervising 200 male inmates in the super maximum prison while insuring staff safety. Coogle said she was afraid to formally submit written limitations from her doctor to CDCR because of what her coworker experienced and what options the department presented her, "I was told your options are to go on unpaid leave or medically demote."

In an effort to avoid a two thirds pay cut and loss of her peace officer status, Coogle said she also reached out to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association for support, "I went to my union to see what they could do and they basically said that the departments view pregnancy is a scheduled illness much like an elective surgery and there's nothing that they could do."

Coogle said by bringing this claim, she hopes there's a policy change, "I hope California with through CDC can set the standards for actual true gender equality in the workforce."

23ABC reached out to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association  twice Friday to confirm Coogles statements about the departments view on pregnancy. Reporters left a message with their communications department at their headquarters but the person they were told to speak with Friday was not in the office.

If the union gets back to us, we will update this story on air and here online. Coogle said she was back at work Friday. Meanwhile the CDCR declined to comment, saying they do not comment on pending litigation.

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