D.C. Fire/EMS Pregnancy Policy Causes Uproar

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's hard enough to hold down a normal job while you're pregnant. But imagine being a pregnant firefighter running into burning buildings, hauling heavy equipment. Three pregnant D.C. firefighters are now joining forces in hopes of changing what they call an "unfair pregnancy policy."

Union Response

Female firefighters in the District used to be able to switch to a desk job during their pregnancy. But under a new policy, they're forced to use their own sick leave. It means some female D.C. firefighters have no money coming in months before their due date. They also don't have any maternity leave after they give birth.

"I feel the department is basically telling the women on the job not to get pregnant," said pregnant D.C. Firefighter Sholanda Smith.

"It's almost like you're being punished for starting a family, said another pregnant D.C. firefighter Melissa Davis. "There's a lot of heavy lifting. I have to lift and drag quite a load."

For that reason, Davis' doctor advised she go on a "limited duty" assignment at four months pregnant.

"I was given thirty days of a desk job," said Davis.

Three weeks in, she got a letter from D.C. Fire and EMS which said: "Although you have not recovered from your illness/injury, no employee will be permitted to remain in a limited duty assignment for more than thirty days."

"My initial reaction when they said that my desk job was ending was, they can't do that. That couldn't be legal," said Davis.

Davis needed about six months of sick leave if she wanted to get paid.

"I didn't have enough leave, so I went on leave without pay," said Davis. "It's been very stressful. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to call. I'd never heard of this happening before."

It's also happening to two other pregnant D.C. Firefighters, including Smith.

"I don't know how I'm supposed to survive as far as maintaining the household and also preparing for a new baby," said Smith.

Smith, Davis, and the D.C. Firefighters Association are now taking the fight to the D.C. City Council.

"I believe it's not fair and the rest of our membership believes it's not fair," said Ed Smith, President of the Local No. 36 D.C. Fire Fighters Association.

In a letter to the D.C. Council, Acting Fire Chief Kenneth Jackson says the department changed its limited duty policy in January 2010 "to address excessive overtime expenditures and to reduce costs associated with backfilling positions of temporarily disabled employees."

In a statement released Monday, Jackson said: "Our pregnancy policy is in line with federal law and district guidelines."

But D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson says the fire department is "wrong on the law." For instance, both D.C. Police and Montgomery County Fire allow limited duty work for pregnant employees throughout their pregnancy.

Councilman Mendelson and Councilwoman Cheh are currently in talks with DC Fire and EMS to amend their policy. If that fails, Councilman Mendelson has said he would move on legislation next month.

Republished with permission of WUSA-TV