|Corporal Anthony Ross felt it
was wrong when he was denied permission for three days paid
leave to attend the birth of his child and to help support his
fiancé in her recovery. Ross is employed by the police
department in South Bend, Indiana.
Ross took the time off anyway but
had to use vacation days. He then asked the Board of
Public Safety to order the police department to reimburse him
for the three days.
A public hearing was held which
focused on a contract between the police officers' union and the
police department which implies that only "spouses" can have
paid leave for the birth of a child.
Ross argued that the contract
language was discriminatory. Taking time off for a child's
birth "should be no different if you're married or single," he
told the board.
Several board members spoke out
against the rule.
Granting leave only to a "spouse"
is not only discrimination against an unmarried father but is
unfair to the child as well, argued board member Bruce
"I think it's discrimination to
those involved," board President Jesusa Rodriguez said. "I think
it's important the father be there whether (or not) he's bound
Board member Juanita Dempsey
"I do feel it needs to be addressed," she said. "It's unfair to
the father (not to be allowed) to be present."
But in the final analysis, a
majority of the board voted to deny the request for
Union President Scott Ruszkowski
said he wanted to work with labor and management to change the
rule before the contract comes up for negotiations again.
Ruszkowski said he could foresee other issues being raised
because of the terminology, such as officers wanting to adopt or
gay couples wanting to start a family.
After reading the relevant
language, it seems to me that the contract could have been
interpreted with a greater degree of flexibility and that Ross
should have received the reimbursement.
Article 24 of the contract states
"In the event of a child born to an employee or to an employee's
spouse, an employee, as defined herein, shall receive three (3)
days leave time without loss of pay to attend the
child's/children's birth(s), upon ... approval."
The contract does not state that
paid leave shall be given to the birth mother or her spouse.
Such specific language might have tied the hands of the police
department and Board of Public Safety.
The language does not say that
the employee must be the one who is physically giving birth.
Paid leave is allowed in the event of "a child born to an
Anthony Ross is an employee.
His biological child was being born. It would have been
reasonable for the board to have interpreted the contract
language as entitling Ross to paid leave.
But forget about reasonableness.
Forget about fairness. Forget about flexibility.
Narrow minds prevailed.
Public officials in Indiana and
elsewhere should be aware of the large and growing population of
unmarried Americans as they make policy decisions affecting our
The Census Bureau reports that
more than 48 percent of Indiana households are headed by
unmarried adults. In South Bend, the figure is 66.4
percent, up from 61 percent in 2000.
More than 5,000 households in
South Bend consist of unmarried parents with children under 18
years of age. According to the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, about one-third of all births in Indiana are
to unmarried parents.
Unfortunately, unmarried parents
such as Ross have no recourse under federal civil rights laws to
challenge such discrimination. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Act does not cover "marital status" discrimination.
Nor do equal rights laws in most states.
Now, if Ross were a teacher, that
would be another matter.
Indiana passed a statute in 1976
which declares that "neither a
governing body nor its agent may make or enforce any rule or
regulation concerning the employment of teachers which
discriminates in any manner because of marital status."
teachers are protected from discrimination but unmarried police
officers are not. How absurd!
Perhaps it is
time for the Fraternal Order of Police to consult with the state
teacher's association on how to lobby the Indiana Legislature.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and