McDermott Secures Important Policy Change and Significant Monetary Settlement in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

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WASHINGTON DC (June 22, 2015) — After two years of hard-fought litigation in a pregnancy discrimination case against the Department of the Interior, a team of McDermott pro bono attorneys recently reached a significant settlement that will protect female officers in the United States Park Police (USPP) from forced disclosure of their pregnancies. McDermott partnered with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in its litigation of the case on behalf of Plaintiff Renee Abt, who also received a $300,000 payment from the Department for damages and costs, including her personal pain and suffering.

Detective Abt was a highly decorated Senior Detective with the United States Park Police (a law enforcement agency within the Department of the Interior). After decades of employment in the Criminal Investigations Branch, Detective Abt learned that she was pregnant with her first child in the spring of 2008. She was reticent to disclose her pregnancy to her supervisors but became aware of the Park Police General Order requiring her to disclose and to secure a doctor’s note authorizing continued work. In the fifth month of her pregnancy, she provided her supervisors with medical certification authorizing continued work as a Detective. Immediately upon her disclosure, however, Detective Abt’s supervisors placed her on limited duty status with certain work restrictions because of her “current medical condition.” The restrictions drastically changed Detective Abt’s job responsibilities by transferring her out of Criminal Investigations, altering her work schedule, reducing her pay, and restricting use of her police car.

Detective Abt filed a discrimination claim at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). After Detective Abt lost her EEOC complaint, a McDermott pro bono team stepped in and took the case to court. Following Detective Abt’s retirement from the USPP in 2013, the McDermott team filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the legality of the General Order and arguing that Detective Abt experienced gender discrimination after she complied with the General Order. In particular, McDermott argued it was discriminatory for the United States Park Police to require female officers to report a pregnancy “as soon as it is known,” provide a doctor’s note “authorizing continued work,” and place pregnant officers on continuous limited duty status for the duration of the pregnancy.

After the McDermott team secured damaging deposition testimony from agency officials, successfully defeated the agency’s summary judgment motion, and positioned the case for a jury trial, the parties negotiated a settlement of the matter. As part of that settlement, the Department of the Interior agreed to rescind the General Order challenged in the lawsuit as being facially discriminatory. The settlement also required the Department of the Interior to pay Detective Abt $300,000, which represents the maximum pain and suffering award available under the law. In the dismissal papers, the Department of the Interior affirmed that it has a commitment under law to “treat women affected by pregnancy ‘the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work[.]’”

“This was an outstanding team effort for a client who has been through a great deal,” said McDermott’s Natalie Bennett, one of the pro bono attorneys on this case. “Our hope is that Detective Abt can put these events behind her and that this case will continue to raise awareness for obstacles women face in the workplace.”

McDermott’s cross-practice pro bono team included IP Litigation partner Melissa Nott Davis; IP Litigation associate Natalie Bennett; Trial associate Mary Hallerman, and U.S. & International Tax associate Britt Haxton. (The case was Abt v. Salazar, 13-cv-00118 RMC.)

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McDermott Will & Emery recognizes and appreciates the need to give back to the communities of which it is a part and to assist those who are unable to afford legal services. The Firm offers a comprehensive pro bono and community service program managed and led by its full-time pro bono counsel and the chair of our Pro Bono & Community Service Committee, which seeks to ensure that the same standards of quality, service and care that McDermott gives to its paying clients are also afforded to those it serves on a pro bono basis. The Firm strongly encourages its lawyers and staff to participate in pro bono initiatives, volunteer services and charitable activities, and it recognizes lawyer time dedicated to pro bono and community service as equivalent to billable hours for all purposes. For more about McDermott’s commitment to social responsibility, click here.

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