The Iowa Supreme Court will decide if a female Clinton firefighter should have been allowed to stay at work on light duty after she became pregnant and was unable to fit into her equipment. The court heard oral arguments on the case Wednesday.
Attorney Roxanne Conlin represents firefighter Karen McQuiston, and says she should not have been forced to take a leave from her job. “Our position is that pregnancy is a temporary disability that is entitled to be accommodated. Our position is based on the very words of the stature governing the issue, and we believe that it is the correct and the only position,” Conlin says. City rules say firefighters can only be put on light duty for an injury that happened on the job. But Conlin says female police officers are allowed to take like duty when they get pregnant thanks to their union contract.
“What that tells us your honor is that light duty is available, that light duty is possible, that there is no imposition on the city that is not reasonable. There is no undue hardship on the city to provide temporary light duty work for women who are temporarily disabled as a result of pregnancy,” Conlin says.
The justices questioned Conlin on whether it makes a difference if the injury happens on the job, because the city would then have to pay workers compensation benefits, creating a bigger financial burden.
“That is certainly one of the arguments that the city makes, to which I say ‘what financial burden?’ There is absolutely nothing in this record that says there is any financial burden,” Conlin says.
Attorney Cynthia Sueppel represents the city of Clinton. Sueppel says the city has hundreds of employees who fall under the policy. “It’s got library staff, it’s got clerks of court, it’s got zoning inspectors, it’s got sanitation workers, and the plaintiff has pointed out two people who have been allowed to work light duty due to their non-work related condition,” Sueppel says.
She was asked if the city can provide light duty to police women under their contract, why can’t they do it for firefighters. “Well because if you are going to grant it to someone who is pregnant who has a non-work condition, then you are going to have a lot of other people who also have protected disabilities — such as a diabetic who can no longer work because they are blind — you are going to bring a lot more people in. And workers compensation, insurance rates are affected,” Sueppel says.
Sueppel says allowing pregnant firefighters to go on light duty might impact others. “Light duty is held aside in the fire department for those persons who are injured on the job. And if you have someone who is already filling that for months and you have another firefighter who has an on-the-job injury, what are they going to do,” Sueppel asks. The district court ruled in favor of the city in the case, prompting McQuiston’s appeal.