I always wanted to be a police officer. Helping people has been my main goal in life, and it’s why I wanted to become an officer. I was never prouder than the day I graduated from the police academy.
I’ve worked as a patrol officer for the Frankfort Police Department in Illinois for 14 years, and the department felt like a home and a family. I even met my husband Joel on the job. When we got married, we immediately wanted to start a family. We had to try for a few years to have a child. When I found out I was pregnant, I was overwhelmed with excitement.
I told my chief about my pregnancy in January 2016, when I was 12 weeks along. I had a healthy pregnancy and told him that I could still work without restrictions, but I wanted to discuss possible accommodations for when my pregnancy progressed to the point that I could not safely patrol the streets. I thought the department would have a policy in place to accommodate pregnant officers, but I was wrong. As one of just three female officers in the department, and the first officer to become pregnant while working patrol, I was in for a rude awakening.
I thought the department would have a policy in place to accommodate pregnant officers, but I was wrong.
It turns out my chief wouldn’t even discuss it. He told me that the department only gave accommodations to officers injured on the job, and it only had to treat me the same as someone who broke her leg off-duty.
But pregnancy isn’t an injury. It’s a normal part of life. I wanted to work. I felt I could contribute to the department with nonpatrol work, like conducting witness interviews and helping with crime prevention outreach. But there was no flexibility. The department didn’t want me.
It got worse — in both big and small ways.
The department denied me maternity uniforms or properly fitting body armor that would allow me to patrol safely. I was even refused permission to move items from my patrol belt to other pockets to relieve the strain on my abdomen. As my pregnancy progressed, I had to worry about whether I could still button my uniform or whether my bulletproof vest would pop open at any time with only the slightest movement. I felt like I had to choose the safety of my baby and myself over my paycheck.
When I was five months pregnant, my doctor gave me a note recommending that I switch to clerical work. As soon as I gave that note to my department, I was told to go home. I was forced off the job onto unpaid leave for the rest of my pregnancy until after I had my baby and was ready to return to work. To compensate for my lost wages during those roughly seven months, I had to use all of my paid benefit time and draw on my pension early — and even then I received only half pay.
I had a healthy baby boy and returned to work when he was about 10 weeks old. But then the retaliation started. I was threatened with unwarranted discipline, faced delays trying to get the proper equipment and uniform I needed to do my work, and got push-back when I took breaks to pump breast milk.
I love my job and my department. The decision to file a lawsuit was very hard for me, but I knew I had to fight back and take a stand. I don't want another woman on the Frankfort police force, or any other force, to have to experience what I’ve gone through.