Calif. CO who miscarried gets $1.7M
Sarah Coogle is 'hopeful' change will come to CDCR policy
By Maureen Strode
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Sarah Coogle is relieved.
She won't have to go through a gender discrimination trial while she's pregnant, now that the lawsuit she brought against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has settled, awarding her $1.7 million in damages.
Coogle, who is now five months pregnant, can focus on her family and the health of her baby, she wrote in an email to The Californian.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Coogle stated.
The lawsuit stemmed from an incident in 2017, when Coogle fell while running to an inmate fight during a shift as a corrections officer at California Correction Institution in Tehachapi. She was seven months pregnant at the time.
That fall ended up causing a placental rupture, commonly caused by trauma from the fall she suffered, leading to the death of her baby just days before Coogle's due date.
McKenzie Lee Coogle was stillborn on Sept. 13, 2017.
Coogle's lawsuit led the way for a March class-action lawsuit to be filed in Los Angeles County, alleging gender discrimination by the CDCR. Female correctional officers allege they were not given reasonable accommodations during and after their pregnancies.
One of the plaintiffs in the case was a correctional officer at Kern Valley State Prison who alleges she was not given reasonable accommodations during her pregnancies in 2015 and 2018.
Coogle believes the work she and her colleagues have done pertaining to the class-action lawsuit "have made a significant impact on the (CDCR)."
"Our voices are being heard," Coogle wrote.
Coogle said she and the plaintiffs listed in the class action were invited to meet with CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz, who was newly appointed at the time. Coogle said Diaz listened to them "patiently and compassionately," and believed that "this openness led to the settlement of this case."
A gender discrimination lawsuit was filed by Coogle in April 2018 alleging the CDCR did not accommodate her, a pregnant corrections officer, which ultimately led to the death of her child.
"Women correctional officers bring a great deal of talent to corrections but also face unique challenges in striking the right work-life balance," Coogle pointed out.
According to the complaint filed in Kern County Superior Court, Coogle asked for reasonable accommodation of alternate work while she was pregnant, due to concerns that she might be forced to use physical force in a confrontation or struggle and could potentially harm her unborn baby.
She was given three options: Coogle could stay in her current position and work until five weeks before her due date; accept a demotion that would result in less pay and loss of benefits; or take leave.
Because Coogle couldn't afford to go on leave, she stayed in her current position.
"Many female correctional officers have suffered for many years under the Department’s policy," Coogle wrote. "The loss of my baby was the most extreme consequence."
Arnold Peter, Coogle's attorney, said the CDCR would be looking at its existing policy and was expected to address the concerns raised in the lawsuit. Coogle said she is hopeful the CDCR will follow through and revise its policy.
CDCR spokesperson Jeffrey Callison said the department takes the issue at hand seriously.
“We are in the process of evaluating our current policies and procedures to ensure best practices with regard to this issue," Callison said in a statement, noting that he could not comment further due to other related litigation in Los Angeles County.
And to those who have been critical of Coogle on social media, she urges empathy.
"I tell them to put themselves in my situation of carrying a baby girl to full term and then losing her and ask if you could live with yourself if you stood by and did nothing."
©2019 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)