Dec. 30--CLINTON -- A Clinton firefighter's lawsuit against the city could affect the lives of women across Iowa, her attorney argued in court on Friday.
Roxanne Conlin, who represents Clinton firefighter Karen McQuistion, asked Seventh Judicial District Judge Henry Latham to push the trial date for her case back so the court could consider a motion that would dismiss the case and arguments from the plaintiffs and defendant.
Both sides have different interpretations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which McQuistion claims the city violated by not providing her with light duty while she was pregnant in 2011.
The city in November filed a motion for summary judgment, which asks the court to dismiss the case. Both sides argued that motion Friday.
"We move for a continuance in this matter while the court has an opportunity to consider this very serious issue, which will in fact affect the lives of women who are pregnant across the state of Iowa," Conlin said.
McQuistion filed suit against the city, City Attorney Jeff Farwell, former City Administrator Jeff Horne and former Fire Chief Mark Regenwether in March 2012, claiming she was discriminated against because of her sex and her pregnancy. She also claims she was denied her right to procreate.
Cynthia Sueppel, representing the city, told Latham her clients resist the motion to move the trial forward because of the potential for the case to be pushed into 2015.
The case was set for a 10-day trial starting Jan. 13, with arguments on the motion for summary judgement coming only two weeks before.
"I can readily see that this is a pretty complicated issue that is going to require some further research and review by the court in order to make a good ruling on the motion for summary judgement," Latham said. "To be honest, for the court to turn around and make that ruling by the time it's set for trial is just not possible, to be quite honest."
Latham agreed to move the date back to May.
Attorneys then spent nearly an hour explaining to Latham the merits of their positions on why or why not the case should be dismissed.
According to the lawsuit, McQuistion asked to be put on light duty in May 2011 after learning she was pregnant and informing Regenwether. This would include inspections for the city, water hydrant checks, fire prevention duties, work with the juvenile fire offender program and training assignments.
Regenwether refused to assign McQuistion to light duty, claiming he could not afford it, the suit states. On approximately June 3, 2011, Regenwether, Farwell and Horne discussed her situation and rejected her request for accommodation, according to the lawsuit, which says she repeatedly requested to have her "disability" accommodated.
McQuistion was forced to stop working on Sept. 29, 2011, on the recommendation of her doctor. In her lawsuit McQuistion contended she could have worked until the commencement of labor if she had been placed on light duty.
While McQuistion maintained in her suit police officers have been allowed light duty when pregnant, this is because the police union contract provides such an accommodation. The firefighter's union contract does not, meaning firefighters are subject to the city's administrative policy.
While McQuistion's attorney argued the city's administrative policy only allows light duty to employees injured on the job and is facially neutral, Conlin argued the policy conflicts with the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Under the Iowa Code, pregnancy is to be treated as a temporary disability and has to be treated as any other temporary disability. The city's "facially neutral" policy creates an issue, Conlin argued.
"It's pregnancy blind and that's the problem. You cannot be pregnancy blind," she said.
Conlin continued the city's policy prohibited McQuistion's right to procreate and discriminated against her based on her sex because it left her three choices: keep working while risking her safety, as well as her unborn child's and co-workers', take leave without pay or quit.