Arizona employers should take care to avoid retaliating against employees who take valid family leaves or request reasonable accommodations for physical conditions. A decision from a federal appeals court signals judicial support for employee rights in regards to family leave and breastfeeding accommodations.
The case involved a female police officer who had initially won $374,000 in damages from a jury. The woman had quit her job and filed a lawsuit asserting that the police department had violated the Family Medical Leave Act and Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Until her pregnancy, she had worked as a patrol officer and then advanced to a position as a narcotics task force investigator. Her performance reviews had always been excellent.
After taking 12 weeks off to bond with her infant, she returned to work. She overheard someone call her nasty names, and then the department demoted her to patrol duty. This job required that she wear a bulletproof vest that constricted her chest and increased the chance of a breast infection because she was lactating. When her physician requested that she be excused from patrol work, her employer refused. The police department said she could patrol without the vest and risk being shot. On appeal, the employer lost again because the court upheld the original jury decision.
A person who experiences mistreatment after returning to work from a family leave could consult an attorney familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act. The attorney might document the employer’s communications and actions that represent retaliation, such as demotion, harassment or termination. After preparing court filings, the attorney could attempt to negotiate a settlement. If that proves to be fruitless, the attorney could take the case to trial.