A former Coast Guard cadet who was expelled from the service’s academy after he became a father filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday in a challenge to the longstanding policy barring students from becoming parents.
According to the suit, Isaak Olson was two months away from graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering and with an officer’s commission in 2014 after he revealed that his fiancee had given birth to their first child several months prior, Reuters reported.
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, further states that Olsen was expelled per a regulation that requires cadets to “disenroll” or resign from the academy if they become saddled with a “parental obligation” due to pregnancy over 14 weeks.
“The decision to become a parent is deeply personal, and no school or job should be able to interfere with that choice,” said Elana Bildner, an ACLU of Connecticut staff attorney representing Olson, in a statement.
“The U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s archaic regulation, which forces cadets to choose between parenthood and their degrees, has been morally wrong and unconstitutional since its inception,” she alleged.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy implemented the rule in the late 1970s after the institution began admitting women to its ranks, Bildner noted.
“It is likely no accident that the academy instituted its arcane ban on parenthood only after it began admitting women,” the ACLU attorney continued. “This policy has no place in Connecticut or elsewhere, and it must end.”
The service academy is located in New London, Conn.
The suit notes that Olson first found out about the pregnancy in April of his junior year. His fiancee decided against having an abortion, while he decided against resigning because it would have given the academy the right to recoup the cost of his education, which he estimated to be upwards of $500,000.
Olson’s fiancee gave birth to their child in August 2013; the then-cadet revealed that he had a child during a duty screening in March 2014, the first time he was questioned about dependents, the lawsuit states.
According to his attorneys, in an effort to salvage Olson’s academic career at the academy so he could graduate, had his parental rights severed. At present, the couple is married and they have two children, the lawsuit says.
But Olson was not given a hearing by the academy and was instead “disenrolled,” the suit states. Bildner adds that Olsen decided to file his lawsuit after a long administrative process in an attempt to get his status restored.
After being expelled, Olson enlisted in the Coast Guard. He is currently serving as an aviation mechanic and is stationed in Alaska. His lawsuit seeks his commission as an officer and back pay. Ultimately, the academy did not pursue the cost of his coursework.
The lawsuit says that Olson and his family receive about $3,000 less than what they would if he was a commissioned officer.
The ACLU said that the case is likely to have implications for the other service branch academies, all of which have similar policies.
“We believe such bans are wrong for every military service academy and that the academies should strike them from their regulations,” Linda Morris, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, told Reuters.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have introduced legislation in the chamber to bar service academies from adopting and enforcing the pregnancy policies.
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