A former U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet is suing the academy over what he calls an archaic ban on parenthood.
The U.S. Coast Guard is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a former Coast Guard Academy cadet. According to the cadet, Isaak Olson, he was “dismissed weeks before he was due to graduate after revealing he and his fiancee at the time had a child.” As it turns out, the academy has a policy that bans cadets from becoming parents.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford earlier this month and argues the ban against parenthood is unconstitutional. As such, Olson is seeking an end to the ban and would like to be “granted his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and commission, which he did not receive because he was dismissed from the Connecticut Academy.” The suit states:
“The Academy’s blanket ban on parents infringes on all cadets’ constitutional right to parenthood and is based on outdated and harmful stereotypes about gender.”
The defendants in the suit include Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz, and Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William G. Kelly. The suit was filed by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, and the ACLU of Connecticut on behalf of Olson.
Olson first joined the academy in 2010 and attended until June 2014. In April 2013, he learned that his girlfriend, who has since become his wife, was 19 weeks pregnant. According to the suit, “he did not inform academy officials of the pregnancy.” He knew that “he could be dismissed from the academy for becoming a parent due to its regulations, which state that a cadet may not have any maternal or paternal obligation or responsibility at the time of appointment or while enrolled as a cadet.” The specific rule states:
“Pregnancy past fourteen (14) weeks will be considered an obligation and will be applicable to both prospective parents…A cadet who incurs a maternal or paternal obligation may resign, be disenrolled, or may apply for a hardship resignation to return upon resolution of parental responsibilities.”
The suit notes that Olson “Olson knew if he resigned the Coast Guard had the legal right to recoup the cost of his education, estimated to be as much as $500,000, and was concerned that he would have to surrender his parental rights to be eligible for readmission if he chose to apply for a hardship resignation.” It was his hope that the brief “guidance provided under the regulation and the use of the permissive phrasing, like ‘may resign’ and ‘may apply,’ meant the academy was encouraging cadets to exercise caution, rather than imposing a blanket ban on parenthood,” according to the lawsuit.
That said, he kept his child a secret, which, the suit claims, caused him a lot of stress. Then, in March 2014, he had to “complete a screening application for his assignment post-graduation, which, among other things, required him to disclose whether he had dependents.” The suit stated:
“This was the first time since the birth of his child that the Coast Guard had asked Mr. Olson if he was a parent…He promptly disclosed that he was.”
After that, he and his girlfriend went through the process to “legally relieve him of his parental rights, hiring a lawyer to file a custody and visitation agreement in a California family court, stipulating that Olson’s girlfriend would have sole legal and physical custody of their child,” according to the suit. The request was granted on April 24, 2014, “10 days after the academy’s superintendent informed Olson he would be dismissed.”
Now, more than six years later, Olson decided to file the lawsuit after “going through a lengthy administrative process seeking to reverse the decision and correct his military record.” The suit stated:
“Mr. Olson contested the Academy’s decision for a number of reasons, including that the Academy rules against parenthood are arbitrary, based on invidious social discrimination rather than the service’s needs, and deprived him of substantive due process.”