The ACLU of Illinois and the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU represent Jennifer Panattoni, a police officer working for the Frankfort Police Department (FPD), who was denied reasonable accommodations and forced onto leave because she was pregnant.
Jennifer Panattoni, one of the only female officers at FPD, has served the Village of Frankfort with distinction since 2003. But when she became pregnant in late 2015 and sought to keep working, FPD responded with persistent discrimination. FPD refused to provide her a uniform that would fit her changing body. FPD refused to provide her the properly-sized protective gear that would keep her safe while she continued patrolling the streets. FPD refused to allow her to carry some of her equipment in her pockets and vest so as to lessen the strain on her abdomen caused by her 25-pound duty belt. Despite allowing non-pregnant officers to take personal breaks while on duty without having to use benefit time, FPD refused to allow her to do the same. And when Officer Panattoni asked to modify her job duties as her pregnancy progressed, FPD refused, claiming that it would only grant modified-duty assignments to officers with on-the-job injuries. This response forced Officer Panattoni to make a hopeless choice: risk her safety and her pregnancy by continuing her patrols without adequate safety protection, or lose out on the essential wages that would help support her soon-to-be family.
Ultimately, FPD forced Officer Panattoni off the job and onto leave simply because she was pregnant. In retaliation for Officer Panattoni asserting her rights under federal and Illinois law, FPD also singled her out for disparate treatment, ranging from threats of unwarranted discipline to denials of the equipment she needed to do her job.
On September 18, 2017, the ACLU of Illinois and the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Officer Panattoni in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The lawsuit alleges that the Village of Frankfort’s discriminatory and retaliatory conduct violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.
On September 11, 2018, the ACLU of Illinois filed an amended complaint in federal district court in Chicago. When Officer Panattoni became pregnant with her second child and informed her department in early 2018, the Village of Frankfort continued its pattern of discrimination and retaliation against her. The FPD refused to modify her duties (such as taking walk-in complaints, conducting witness interviews, and performing other available work at the station) to allow her to work safely through her pregnancy – unless she accepted an approximately 50 percent pay cut. Male officers who needed similar job modifications due to injury have not been forced to take a pay cut. In May 2018, the FPD again forced Officer Panattoni off the job and onto leave because she was pregnant, forcing her to exhaust her paid benefit time and draw on her disability pension at half the amount of her usual pay. Officer Panattoni is also represented in her lawsuit by Kirkland & Ellis LLP.