Sept. 26--BRIDGEPORT -- What they view as stressful treatment of a pregnant black firefighter is the last straw for the Firebirds Society.
"We're in the process of contacting the U.S. Justice Department to look into the way this department treats its minority and female firefighters," said Joel Christy, president of the Firebirds, which represents minorities in the department.
Christy said he believes minorities are being treated differently, not just in the case of Regina Scates, the pregnant firefighter, but when it comes to hiring, promotion and discipline within the city Fire Department.
"It seems to keep mounting and mounting," he said.
On Wednesday, Scates, who is six-months' pregnant and has been experiencing complications since May, said she had her payment status changed again --twice within hours.
On Aug. 30 Scates, 36, was told she was being removed from light duty to unpaid sick leave. She would be returned to paid sick leave after delivering her child in December.
Statewide publicity generated by a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper story led to Scates being placed on paid sick leave.
However, on Wednesday Scates and Christy told Hearst that a department supervisor advised her she was being placed on unpaid family medical leave.
Thomas Bucci, Scates' lawyer, said he called the City Attorney's Office and was assured Scates will be returned to paid sick leave.
"Their continual focus on her is confusing to me," said Bucci, a former mayor who as a lawyer specializes in labor relations issues. "I'm sure she's not the first pregnant firefighter the city has had to deal with. Obviously, people at the supervisory level need training on gender-related issues."
But William Kaempffer, the city's public safety spokesman, said he suspects Wednesday's issues may be a misunderstanding.
"The city issued a letter informing firefighter Scates that she has been approved for protections under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act," Kaempffer said. "That in no way changes her paid status. She has been paid and will continue to be paid. FMLA is just an added layer of protection for which she is eligible."
FMLA provides job protection, but no pay once an individual's accumulated sick leave, vacation time and personal days are exhausted.
Christy said he knows of three pregnant white firefighters who received paid sick leave without any snafus.
"What they are doing to firefighter Scates seems to me to be vindictive," he said. "They know she has experienced complications. Why are they continuing to put her through all this stress? I'm becoming very concerned about the safety of her baby."
Late Wednesday afternoon, Scates said she was on her way to St. Vincent's Medical Center after feeling labor pains. She said she was in the hospital Monday with similar pains.
"This has been very stressful to me," she said. "One day I'm being paid, the next day I'm not. I keep worrying about how I'm going to pay my bills, feed my family."
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