Suit: Wayne County sheriff's officials didn't accommodate sergeant with high-risk pregnancy
Detroit — A pregnant Wayne County sheriff's sergeant has filed a federal lawsuit against her employer, claiming command staff refused to accommodate her request for light duty after her unborn baby was diagnosed with a rare disease.
According to the suit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Sgt. Tanicka Jones provided her superiors with a doctor’s note that suggested she be transferred to light duty at the Wayne County Jail after her unborn child was diagnosed in November 2018 with Trisomy 18, a chromosomal disease that affects how organs develop.
Jones, an 18-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was sent an email from Capt. Zenola Seegars that said: "We do not provide workplace accommodations to pregnant officers" and "We do not provide workplace accommodations to any officer that are afflicted with a non-duty related medical condition," according to the lawsuit.
Wayne County sheriff's spokeswoman Pageant Atterberry said Tuesday she could not comment on ongoing litigation.
Jones claims in the lawsuit she asked several people in her chain of command, up to Sheriff Benny Napoleon, to be transferred to light duty, but was thwarted. So she retained an attorney, Scott Batey, who claims sheriff's office officials granted his client's request just hours after he mentioned the lawsuit to county attorneys.
"I was talking to a (Wayne County) Corporation Counsel attorney about an unrelated matter, and she mentioned 'you're pretty busy,' and I told her, 'You don't know the half of it; I've got this lawsuit against you,' and I told her what it was about," Batey said.
"Shortly thereafter, my client gets a phone call at work telling her she finally got her accommodation after asking for five months," Batey said.
Although Jones was ultimately placed in the light duty assignment she'd requested, Batey said he's moving forward with the lawsuit, although the attorney said he hasn't yet settled on a dollar amount he's seeking.
"She underwent tremendous emotional suffering," Batey said. "Her baby has a serious medical condition and they’re playing games with her accommodations. This case bothers me to my core; I can’t believe they so completely disregarded the law."
The lawsuit claims: "As a result of (Jones') history with preeclampsia, anemia and her child being diagnosed with Trisomy 18, her treating physician has designated (her) as disabled with a high risk pregnancy and requested reasonable accommodations that (she) 'should avoid working 16 hour shifts and activities that could subject her to abdominal trauma.'
"Since late September/early October, 2018 (Jones) has requested to be reasonably accommodated by removing her from her current position in Jail Division II 'which could subject her to abdominal trauma,'" the suit said.
"There are numerous positions available within the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department that fit within (Jones') restrictions as well as reasonable accommodations in her current position which could allow her to avoid contact or interaction with inmates thereby removing the risk of abdominal trauma," the lawsuit said.
The suit claims Jones met with Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes, who allegedly told her: "I have no obligation to accommodate you per policy,” and that “there are no light duty jobs for pregnancy.'
"Undersheriff Pfannes also threatened that when people file complaints to the EEOC I'm the one who has to testify,'" the suit said. "Undersheriff Pfannes also stated he has told the union on multiple occasions regarding her requests to be accommodated that 'her pregnancy is not a disability, if she cannot work she needs to take off and that using the terms reasonable accommodation is attorney's language.'
"Had Undersheriff Pfannes or Sheriff Napoleon taken the time to engage in a thoughtful conversation with Plaintiff or reviewed her request for an accommodation prepared by her doctor, they would have seen that Ms. Jones was not claiming that her pregnancy was a disability, but she had a high-risk pregnancy due to medical conditions and that her unborn child suffered from Trisomy 18 a serious medical condition," the lawsuit said.
Trisomy 18, also called Edwards Syndrome, is a chromosomal abnormality in which a baby has extra three copies of chromosome 18 in some or all of the body's cells. That can cause the infant's organs to develop abnormally.
The abnormality occurs in about 1 out of every 2,500 pregnancies in the United States, and 1 in 6,000 live births, according to the Trisomy 18 Foundation.