A Chicago Fire Department (CFD) paramedic’s harrowing experience with pregnancy discrimination and her bravery in stepping forward helped lead to a settlement and new policies governing how CFD treats pregnant employees and mothers who need to express breastmilk at work. 

The settlement arises from CFD’s treatment of Sarah Spriesch, a paramedic who was forced onto leave and out of work for the duration of her pregnancy, then denied breaks and a clean place to pump once she returned to work. The complaint against the City of Chicago was filed under the Illinois Human Rights Act, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

“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,” said Amy Meek, Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project Staff Attorney, ACLU of Illinois.

Pursuant to CFD policy at the time, once 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.

For more information and to read the settlement, please click here