A new law was passed in Florida in 2018 after a male attorney argued against a female attorney’s request to push a trial 8 weeks ahead due to her pregnancy and uncertainty of the timeframe she would deliver her child.
According to news reports, Paul T. Reid of Shook Hardy and Bacon law firm was suspended and subsequently disciplined for his questionable actions over the continuance request by his opposing counsel. The occurrence ultimately resulted in legislation that would offer continuance when needed due to pregnancy.
The law, Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.570, was a victory against such discrimination in Florida, but unfortunately, inexcusable behavior under the same or similar circumstances continues in other states. In fact, an expecting female litigant in New York calls her experience downright “horrific”.
Ms. Stacy Makhnevich was pregnant and involved in a civil debt collection action. The trial took place over 5 days and lasted long hours – from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The grueling schedule of the trial began to negatively affect her. She reports that she was belittled and screamed at when she would request a restroom break, and then would be denied the opportunity to go, noting she was forced to continue with a full bladder.
Her physical limitations and mental and emotional stress of being treated so poorly left her terrified and distraught as she tried to continue presenting her case in the courtroom. By this point, she not only needed to concentrate on the work at hand, but do so during unethical, inhumane treatment that left her extremely worried that she might lose control of her bladder in public or be humiliated once more for a simple request to use the bathroom.
By day four of the trial, she found herself completely unable to concentrate. She had been shamed mercilessly in the last few days, and the physical ramifications were taking a toll. She began to experience a pounding sound of blood rushing to her head. She was feeling so unwell, she began to worry about her well-being and the lasting negative effects the horrible treatment she was experiencing could have on her pregnancy. She visited her doctor and was horrified to learn that he suspected miscarriage could be looming. He strongly recommended that she begin bed rest immediately. In a desperate hope to avoid a devastating miscarriage, she asked the court to postpone further hearings for 4 weeks.
She had also provided to the court a note from her high-risk obstetrician indicating her pregnancy and excused absence.
However, she was subjected to more of the unacceptable behavior she had endured over the trial week. The opposing attorney, Gregory Bougopoulos of Novick Edelstein Pomerantz law firm , in the trial immediately objected to her medical note; the judge initiated a line of invasive questioning regarding the particulars of her gynecological and obstetrical condition to determine why she couldn’t remain on schedule with the hearing. She had to answer in front of all of those present.
She would learn that the judge’s decision would be that no rescheduling would take place. The expectant mom-to-be now had to make a decision that no woman should have to make – to put herself and unborn child in potential danger or lose her case by being marked as “noncompliant” or “in default” by not showing up for court.
In such a case, medical diagnosis and interpretation should default to the medical professionals who are trained extensively to take care of mother and baby, both of whom deserve ethical treatment. Anyone else without a medical degree or experience in obstetrics cannot possibly speak to what is safe for a mother and her unborn baby. Society certainly would understand a football coach granting time for a player to recover from a heart attack before sending him back on the field for an intensive training session. Yet, pregnant women in New York who are told they are high risk for miscarriage are treated as though they aren’t worth a few extra weeks to ensure the life they are growing inside of them has a chance to survive.
To disregard the health of a baby in utero by refusing to grant a continuance is a form of child endangerment, especially when the medical professional providing care has reason to believe a problem may exist and has communicated that concern to the patient and documented it on paper.
Aside from the physical damage, there are emotional and mental concerns for a pregnant woman who learns she may be experiencing a loss of her child. A miscarriage is not just a medical condition. It’s the end of a life that a parent has already started to cherish. The physical pain as well as the emotional pain of the possibility of loss and humiliation of discussing her personal health concerns with male parties has subjected her to unethical treatment she did not deserve.
The attorney, Gregory Bougopoulos of Novick Edelstein Pomerantz law firm, who opposed the rescheduling accommodations was never reprimanded. New York State Division of Human Rights stopped their investigation into civil rights violation by this state judge, citing lack of jurisdiction over the court system and state judges and inability to enforce.
There are hundreds of pregnant and disabled females making appearances in court every day in New York as attorneys or pro se female litigators. It is tragic and embarrassing that women, pregnant women and women with high-risk pregnancies, are continued to be treated like this in New York.
How is this sort of suffering allowed in New York when it was so clearly identified as wrongdoing and handled effectively in Florida.
Press release: Nisha Patel email@example.com