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Former cop sues sheriff

A former Pasco sheriff's deputy has filed a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office alleging that she was discriminated against because she got pregnant.

After Julia Law asked to be taken off road patrol in the summer of 1993 because it might endanger her pregnancy, sheriff's officials started to harass her and discriminate against her, the suit states.

Law contends that the Sheriff's Office policy that treats pregnancy as a temporary disability discriminates against female officers. Law worked under Sheriff Lee Cannon.

However, the Sheriff's Office says the policy is based on federal anti-discrimination laws requiring employers to treat pregnancy the same as any temporary disability, such as a sprained ankle.

As the lawsuit illustrates, the same federal law designed to guarantee job opportunities for pregnant women can create obstacles if they don't want to work in a dangerous occupation while pregnant.

Mary Anne Burke, a Sheriff's Office attorney, said Monday night that she hadn't seen the lawsuit. But she recalled Law's allegations as they were made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last fall.

"Under the (federal) pregnancy disability act, she has to be treated the same as anyone with a temporary disability, and she was," Burke said. "She never lost a day's work or day's pay."

The suit says Law was denied promotions and transfers and suffered "disparaging remarks . . . on an ongoing basis" from her superiors because of her sex.

Law first took her complaints to the EEOC last fall. The commission didn't act on the charges, but in August granted Law the right to file suit against the Sheriff's Office, according to an Aug. 31 letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter is included in the suit, which names the Sheriff's Office and Cannon as defendants.

After working seven years at the office, her problems started when she got pregnant, she said. Federal laws don't address the issue of pregnant women in dangerous occupations.

Under former Sheriff Jim Gillum, pregnant deputies were immediately removed from road patrol and given light duty at their same pay rate, according to Gillum's policy handbook.

After Cannon took office, sheriff's officials have said, Cannon realized such a policy was discriminatory. Instead, pregnancy had to be treated no worse than any other temporary disability, sheriff's officials said.

Law told the Times in November 1993 that she first got upset when she was told she would need a doctor's note to get light duty because being pregnant wasn't enough to be taken off road patrol. She said she was shocked that the child she carried could be exposed to the dangers of a street cop.

Law got a note from her doctor stating that she needed to be removed from road patrol, and she was transferred to light duty at her full deputy salary, Burke said.

Having to answer to civilian supervisors, however, meant that Law was "unlawfully demoted as a result of her pregnancy," the suit states.

After she objected to having to work the road, Law said, she was written up on what she called "bogus charges" and was moved to five different jobs, answering phones and typing traffic citations into a computer.

"Being a cop, I've got completely different training," Law said. "To put me in a job like that to begin with is like putting a bull in a china shop . . . I'm a cop, not a data entry clerk."

Law walked off her job Oct. 26. Four days before she left, her supervisor recommended in a memo that Law be suspended for two days without pay because of insubordination.

In addition to punitive damages, the suit asks that Law be restored to her deputy job and receive back wages since she left.

Julia Law's husband, James Law, is a detective in the sheriff's Crimes Against Children unit.