Corrections Department Provided Lesser Benefits to Female Corrections Officers Who Gave Birth While on Workers’ Compensation Leave
NEW YORK – The New York State Department of Correctional Services will pay nearly $1 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the two offices announced today. The EEOC and the United States had charged the Corrections Department with violating federal law by providing inferior benefits to female employees on maternity leave.
The EEOC suit, filed under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (Case No. 07-CV-2587 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York), charged that the Corrections Department gave male employees with work-related injuries up to six months of paid workers’ compensation leave. Female employees could be granted the same leave, but pregnant employees on such leave were involuntarily switched to maternity leave at or around the time they gave birth. The Corrections Department’s maternity leave policy requires that women first use their accrued sick or vacation leave with pay; then, if approved, sick leave with half pay and then sick leave without pay.
The EEOC charged that switching women from workers’ compensation leave to maternity leave resulted in lesser benefits for those women due to their sex and thus violated the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA is a federal law requiring that employers pay men and women equally for equal work.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York joined the lawsuit by adding claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged that the Corrections Department engaged in a pattern and practice of employment discrimination on the basis of sex as a result of its categorical determination that a female employee who gives birth to a child should be transferred from workers’ compensation leave and benefits without making a determination whether, on an individual basis, an employee continues to be eligible for workers’ compensation leave and benefits.
Late yesterday, the court granted final approval of an Order and Stipulation Providing for Injunction and Affirmative Relief, which provides $972,000 in compensatory damages, liquidated damages, back pay and interest to 23 female Corrections employees. The back pay, which includes the value of leave some women were forced to take, has already been paid. The order also contains a modification provision whereby the court may order additional monetary relief to additional victims who are identified following the settlement.
Also in the order, which is subject to monitoring by the EEOC, the United States and the court for up to five years, the Corrections Department agreed to several elements of injunctive relief as to all its facilities statewide. It has amended its workers’ compensation directive to provide that no female Corrections officer shall be removed from workers’ compensation benefits due to pregnancy or the birth of a child, and it will provide anti-discrimination training to employees across the state, along with training in the administration of workers’ compensation benefits to its personnel employees. The Corrections Department will also give to each female employee preparing to take a maternity leave a packet of all applicable policies, procedures and benefits.
“I am confident that this case has shown the Corrections Department that what might seem like a slight difference in benefits between a man and a pregnant woman can really take a toll on an employee’s life,” said Raechel Adams, the EEOC trial attorney handling the case. “Mostly, I am pleased that with the injunctive relief in place, the Corrections Department will now treat men and women equally for equal work when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits.”
The Department of Corrections is the New York state government entity responsible for the confinement and habilitation of approximately 63,000 inmates held at 69 state correctional facilities across New York State, including approximately 1,700 at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York, where this action originated.
EEOC New York District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. commented, “The EEOC is very grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on this very important case. It was our working hand in hand, under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII together, that allowed us to achieve such a fine result.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.