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Kern County Judge Says California Corrections Policy On Pregnant Employee Unlawful

Monica Velez
Sarah Coogle and her attorney Arnold Peter at Kern County Superior Court.

A Kern County Superior Court Judge issued a temporary injunction Tuesday against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- or CDCR-- after a pregnant correctional officer fell on the job and lost her baby.  The injunction says the CDCR must offer light duty to pregnant employees.

Sarah Coogle was seven months pregnant when her doctor wrote her a note recommending less strenuous duty. She worked as a correctional officer at a super-max state prison in Tehachapi, southeast of Bakersfield.

The CDCR denied Coogle's request for lighter duty. Her lawyer, Arnold Peter, says the agency discriminated against her because she was pregnant.

"Virtually every law enforcement agency provides light duty assignments for pregnant officers," Peter says.

The CDCR offered Coogle unpaid leave or a demotion, and the prison guard union was unable to help. Coogle kept working.

When she was seven months pregnant, she fell on the job while trying to break up an inmate fight. She ended up losing her baby due to a complication her lawyer says is commonly caused by falls. Coogle was also on life support for two days. 

Outside the courtroom, Coogle says she hopes the injunction will help other correctional officers.

"I want to make sure every other female is protected and no one else has to go through what I went through," Coogle says.

The decision sets a precedent for other pregnant correctional officers across the state. 

A spokesperson for the CDCR declined to comment because of ongoing litigation. 

The case is set to go to trial next September. 

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.