- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

D.C. officials say an Emergency Medical Services supervisor who told trainees last year not to become pregnant during their first year lest they lose their jobs was acting on her own, adding that the city has since clarified its policy on pregnant employees.
"If there was miscommunication, it was miscommunication on the part of an individual," said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. "The policy of the District has never been that you are terminated when you're pregnant."
D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox has recommended that "appropriate disciplinary action" be taken against EMS operations chief Samanthia M. Robinson, who told rookies during a March 2001 orientation class they could be dismissed if they became pregnant.
The D.C. Code prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy.
Mrs. Kellems would not comment on how Miss Robinson would be disciplined, but said the city will take "whatever personnel action is appropriate." She said interim Fire Chief Adrian Thompson will make the final decision regarding such action.
The Washington Times first reported last August that three female medics in the orientation class had abortions last year based on Miss Robinson's advice. The Times has obtained a copy of Mr. Maddox's report on the incident.
Mrs. Kellems said Miss Robinson was moved to an administrative position last year after the women's charges were aired, and she was to have no direct supervision over EMS workers during the investigation.
But Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city's medics, said Miss Robinson remained in direct supervision of his members, including the three women who were pregnant.
As an example, Mr. Lyons noted a July 25 fire department special order signed by Chief Thompson instructing redeployed medics to contact Miss Robinson about assignments.
The 400-member medics' union represents about 160 women.
Union attorney Louis Malone last year filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the three female medics. The commission found there was evidence of discrimination. He said he is trying to negotiate a settlement with the city but has not ruled out litigation.
"I think the inspector general did a very good job of uncovering facts related to this incident, but the conclusions are a bit narrow," Mr. Malone said.
According to the inspector general's report, another woman who attended an EMS orientation class in 1999 ended her pregnancy out of fear of losing her job.
Mr. Lyons said the previous incident indicates that Miss Robinson was "progressing a policy that, by a wink and a nod, has always been endorsed by the agency."
"They're sending out mixed messages here," he said. "Are they going to address this violation or simply put a face on it?"
Mrs. Kellems said the city has been working to create a policy for fire and EMS employees that offers pregnant women light-duty options that are "appropriate but not unfair to other members of the work force."
Mr. Lyons said that he has been invited to one meeting on the subject, and that his members have seen no changes.
Mrs. Kellems defended the city's handling of the issue. "It is not a fair characterization to say we haven't worked hard on this," she said, noting the city has scrapped a policy requiring pregnancy screenings for applicants to the fire and police departments.

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