Female Corrections Officer Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against California Department of Corrections; Loses Baby after Stopping Fight in Maximum Security Prison


April 17, 2018 – (BAKERSFIELD, CA) – A female corrections officer assigned to an all-male “super maximum” prison while pregnant, today filed a civil lawsuit accusing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) of disability discrimination and violation of the Fair Housing and Employment Act. The suit is seeking unspecified damages after the officer, Sarah Coogle, lost her unborn baby while acting to stop an altercation among prisoners. A full copy of the complaint can be found here.

“This case is about gender inequality in the workplace and the tragic price one woman had to pay in order to secure her position on the playing field,” said Arnold P. Peter, attorney for the plaintiff. “The callous indifference exhibited by the CDCR and the State of California placed Sarah in the impossible position of choosing between her career and her family. No man would ever be asked to make this terrible choice.”

In December, 2016, Coogle was a corrections officer at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. She became pregnant and asked the CDCR for the reasonable accommodation of alternate work in a less strenuous position. Coogle was concerned about the possibility of needing to use physical force in a confrontation to subdue a prisoner, resulting in an injury to her unborn child.

The CDCR refused to accommodate Coogle and instead offered her the option of taking an unpaid leave or being demoted, which would result in a two-thirds cut in salary, benefits and seniority, along with a loss of her status as a corrections officer. When she asked her union to help, Coogle was told that prison officials treat pregnancy as a “planned illness” much the same as having elective surgery.

According to the complaint, Coogle was fully capable of doing her job but simply requested a less strenuous position without losing salary and benefits. When she was seven months pregnant, Coogle was running to stop a fight among inmates. She fell and was taken by ambulance to the hospital with abdominal pain. Her physician directed her to not work for the duration of her pregnancy. A few days before her due date in September, 2017, Coogle lost her baby due to a placental rupture which is commonly caused by trauma such as a fall. She almost died and was on life support for two days.

“I knew that I was signing up for a dangerous job but my baby did not,” Coogle said. “I want to make sure that no woman working for the CDCR ever faces the sorrow and loss I must live with for the rest of my life.”

The case underscores the ongoing national dialogue about gender inequality in the workplace, where women who work in traditionally male-dominated fields are regularly forced to make difficult choices in order to stay on the earnings track. A recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the spousal earnings gap doubles between two years before the birth of the first child and the year after that child is born. After the child’s first year of life the gap continues to grow for the next five years.California is second only to Texas in the number of corrections officers in the state. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics study Women in Law Enforcement 1987-2008, published in June 2010, 14 percent of Bureau of Prisons officers were female.

About Peter Law Group

Peter Law Group is a boutique law firm founded and managed by Arnold P. Peter, a former US reserve military officer, who also served as Chair of the California State Bar Labor and Employment Law Section and Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs at Universal Studios. The firm represent clients based in California, nationwide and internationally.

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CONTACT: Bennett Kleinberg, bkleinberg@jupiterstrategies.com, (917) 416-4012.