- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday expressed "utmost confidence" in Fire Chief Ronnie Few in the wake of a growing controversy over pregnant employees, and he said he opposes anyone being counseled to seek an abortion.
Mr. Williams said he plans an internal review of a letter to prospective employees, signed by Chief Few, warning that they won't be hired if they are pregnant.
The letter is being scrutinized following disclosures first reported in The Washington Times last week that an EMS supervisor told a 21-year-old rookie she should get an abortion if she wanted to keep her job, sources said.
"The letter the chief sent out makes it clear that if you're pregnant you're going to have to defer your employment," said Tony Bullock, the mayor's interim communications director. "I think they're just going to look at the letter, run it by a couple of attorneys, and make sure it's consistent with department policy, as well as District and federal laws."
Several department sources identified the supervisor who threatened the rookie medic as Samanthia Robinson, interim assistant chief of operations for EMS. They said Ms. Robinson told a class of about 10 rookie medical workers they could not get pregnant and were not entitled to medical benefits if they did.
One rookie, who was pregnant at the time, expressed concern to Ms. Robinson, who told her she should get an abortion if she wanted to keep her job, the sources said. So she did.
A fire department source who has spoken to the rookie said the EMS supervisor "basically strong-armed her into getting an abortion."
Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said Ms. Robinson is "still on the job in her original capacity."
"If it did happen, it's a pretty egregious situation," Mr. Bullock said.
According to Chief Few's letter, "If you are found to be suffering from any medical disability, which will adversely impact on your ability to perform the duties required by the position … you will not be employed."
"Because [the letter] came out in the context of this other incident, people are reading it to be much more egregious," said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
"My general sense is this has been the normal course of business for a while," she said.
But union Chairman Kenneth Lyons said yesterday that, unlike the agility tests for firefighters that involve lifting and carrying heavy weights, there are no objective physical tests for emergency medical technicians.
"The only thing that I can see that's debilitating is that these individuals might be pregnant," he said. "This entire policy they have, to me, is outrageous."
Along with pregnancy, broken bones and infections are listed as medical disabilities that could prevent a candidate's selection.
The 1978 federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 similarly prohibits sex discrimination in hiring, including pregnancy.
Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum, director of the Federal Legislation Clinic, yesterday said that because the letter is prefaced with a "conditional offer of employment" it is consistent with federal law aiming to "tease out if it was the medical condition which was preventing the hiring." She said legislation protecting the disabled from discrimination never was intended to force unqualified candidates on employers.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the rookie medic who had the abortion said Tuesday that he has filed an equal employment opportunity complaint with the District on the woman's behalf — the first step toward initiating a lawsuit.
"If this cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of our client, I would think it would lead to a lawsuit," said Louis Malone, who represents the medics union. He declined to say who would be named in such a suit.


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