The ACLU of Illinois and the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU represented Jennifer Panattoni, a police officer working for the Frankfort Police Department (FPD), in a lawsuit alleging that she was denied reasonable accommodations and forced onto leave because she was pregnant. Officer Panattoni was also represented in her lawsuit by Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
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 contended that the Village of Frankfort’s discriminatory and retaliatory conduct violated the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act as alleged below.
Jennifer Panattoni, one of the only female officers at FPD, has served the Village of Frankfort with distinction since 2003. The lawsuit alleged that 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, as alleged in the complaint, 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 11, 2018, the ACLU of Illinois filed an amended complaint in federal district court in Chicago. The amended complaint alleged that 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 were not forced to take a pay cut. The amended complaint alleged that 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.
In April 2019, the parties reached a settlement agreement in which the Village of Frankfort agreed to pay $190,000 to Officer Panattoni and her attorneys. The agreement also requires the Village to adopt significant changes to its policies, procedures, and training to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth. In addition, the Village has agreed to reschedule Officer Panattoni for the training classes that she was unable to attend due to being placed on leave during her first pregnancy.
The Village has agreed to make significant policy changes at the Frankfort Police Department as part of the settlement. Under the new policies, FPD must treat pregnant officers the same as officers injured on the job when it comes to granting accommodations like modified-duty assignments. FPD must maintain a “task bank” of non-patrol projects to help accommodate pregnant or injured officers who need less strenuous or hazardous work. And FPD will pay pregnant officers the same rates as officers injured on the job when they are accommodated with modified-duty work. Finally, FPD will create forms, trainings and procedures to ensure these policies can be implemented appropriately.