OCEAN TOWNSHIP (Monmouth) — A state appeals court wrote Friday that a police department's policy that differentiates between pregnant officers and others is unlawful, in a ruling it said was the first of its kind to test New Jersey's expanded employee protections for pregnant workers.

The 38-page ruling reversed a lower court's decision that had sided with Ocean Township's police department against Officer Kathleen Delanoy.

Delanoy, who has served on the town's police force since 2003, claimed in the lawsuit that the department's maternity policy violated New Jersey's Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which took effect in 2014 and strengthened protections for pregnant women in the workplace.

The policy requires pregnant officers and other officers who were given light-duty assignments while recovering from injury to deplete their accrued leave time in exchange for the new assignments, according to the ruling. Delanoy contended, and the appeals court agreed, that the maternity policy treated her unequally because only the non-pregnant officers could seek a waiver for the loss of leave time.

The maternity policy “is less favorable ... in a critical respect” than the policy for non-pregnant officers, the court wrote. It sent the case back to the lower court to decide how the policy should be modified going forward.

Friday's ruling also sent the case back to the lower court for a jury to determine if the policy on leave time fails to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees under the regnant Workers Fairness Act, and whether Delanoy is entitled to damages.

“We’re thankful to the court for effectuating the legislature’s intent to protect pregnant workers and to require employers to accommodate pregnancy and not penalize women for the accommodation,” attorney Donald Burke, representing Delanoy, said Friday.

A message was left Friday with an attorney who argued the case on behalf of the police department.

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