My Police Department Vowed to ‘Get Rid’ of Me After I Had My Son, so I Fought Back for Other Female Officers
I was forced to choose between my job as a police officer and breastfeeding my son. I sued — and won.
By Stephanie Hicks, Former Narcotics Investigator, Tuscaloosa Police Department
SEPTEMBER 14, 2017 | 11:45 PM
I loved my job in law enforcement, but I was demeaned, demoted, and discriminated against for choosing to be a mom. I was a police officer and investigator with the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force for five years before I was pushed off the job for breastfeeding my son.
In that time I worked my way up in the force, starting as a patrol officer and eventually becoming an undercover agent and training officer. Fewer than ten percent of officers work undercover and train recruits. These were competitive positions and promotions that I worked hard to earn.
I grew up wanting to help people and decided that becoming a police officer was how I would protect my community. In my hometown of Tuscaloosa, I had witnessed firsthand how prescription drug addiction was killing people and ruining lives. I wanted to help.
I worked undercover details in narcotics where I focused on prescription drug abuse, investigating who sold drugs like Oxycontin and Adderall on the black market. It was dangerous work, but I loved it and I was good at it.
I also worked as a field training officer in charge of training new recruits. I’d ride with them on patrol until they were fully prepared to go out on their own. I loved teaching them and sharing my passion for the job. It’s an honor to serve your community, and I took great pride in ensuring these new recruits understood this.
In 2012, I found out I was pregnant with my son. Although that meant that I wouldn’t work undercover in a meth lab anymore because of possible health risks from chemical exposure, I could still do my casework, write arrest warrants, and collect evidence. I actively worked until the week I gave birth to my son without any issues. I never had a bad review, and I was never told I didn’t do a good job.
But when I came back from maternity leave everything changed.
My supervisors told me that I seemed “changed” and suggested that it was because I had the “baby blues.” Friends and fellow officers overheard them complaining about the length of time I had taken off for maternity leave — the standard 12 weeks — referring to me as a “stupid cunt” and saying they would “find any way” to “get rid of that bitch.”
I was demoted to patrol duty, which required me to wear a bulletproof vest. But my doctor advised me that women shouldn’t wear these vests, which are heavy and restrictive, when breastfeeding — we aren’t even supposed to wear a sports bra. Wearing the vest would put me at risk of infection or other medical complications and potentially reduce my supply of breast milk.
Afraid of risking my own life or health or harming my newborn son, I asked for a desk job. The department denied my request even though other officers were routinely given desk duty for other medical reasons. The chief suggested that I either not wear the vest on patrol or wear it more loosely. Both of those options would have been unsafe, and I wasn’t willing to put my life at risk.
I also wasn’t ready to quit breastfeeding altogether.
I struggled with the decision to leave my job because I loved it, and my family depended on the income. I believe women can be good mothers and still go to work. I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom because I love to work and our family needs two salaries to live. But I felt I had no choice but to quit my job in order to keep breastfeeding my newborn son.
I brought my case to court because I didn’t want other women to be forced to choose between feeding their child and keeping their job. I took a stand and fought back on behalf of all women so no other moms would be put in this situation.
My family has made great sacrifices for this fight. We have lost friends and colleagues, suffered great professional harm, and been subject to ridicule, mockery, and retaliation — but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I was thrilled when the ACLU and the Center for WorkLife Law took interest in my case and filed an amicus brief on behalf of 22 organizations. It confirmed that the struggle was bigger than just my case. My victory in court last week makes clear that the law requires all employers to provide equal accommodations for breastfeeding employees. This is the change working moms in the force have needed.
As the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst said, “We are here, not because we are law breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law makers.” I’m proud to have played a role in making law that will help other working moms in the police force.
Originally published at www.aclu.org.