Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

February 26,  2007  



Unmarried officer denied leave for child's birth

By Thomas F. Coleman

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 Bondurant.

"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 by marriage."

Board member Juanita Dempsey agreed .

"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 reimbursement.

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 employee." 

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 lives.

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."

So unmarried 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. 

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© 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 America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.