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Woman denied job when pregnant sues

By DUANE BOURNE
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

SPRING HILL -- Claiming that two discrimination complaints she filed against the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District were not resolved satisfactorily, a Spring Hill woman has filed a lawsuit alleging that the district refused to hire her when she was pregnant.

Jennifer Couch, whom the district has since hired, is seeking more than $15,000 in damages. In the suit, she says she was denied a job as a dispatcher after she could not complete a required battery of tests because of her pregnancy. Couch could not be reached for comment.

"(Couch) has suffered a loss of income and fringe benefits," the lawsuit states. "In addition, (Couch) continues to suffer from mental anguish, emotional distress, embarrassment and loss of enjoyment of life."

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Couch petitioned both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations in 2001, arguing that the fire rescue district had violated her civil rights.

In both cases, Couch, who was hired by the district as a full-time dispatcher in November 2001, charged that the fire district, after ranking her as the most qualified candidate, denied her the position.

Robert McKee, the lawyer representing Couch, said that in March 2002, the commission found that Couch had been discriminated against and offered both parties an avenue to resolve her grievances.

In July, the commission informed Couch and McKee that its attempts to resolve the grievances had been unsuccessful, thus giving Couch the right to sue.

Couch was six months pregnant when she applied for the job in April 2001, according to McKee. She took a written test and was offered a part-time dispatcher postion, but then the job was denied when she told officials she could not complete a tuberculosis screening and a back X-ray.

"As a matter of fact, they said, 'You're the (best candidate), you got the job, you're starting on such and such date,' " McKee said.

Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief J.J. Morrison refused to comment, citing the pending litigation.

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