A group of high-ranking Minneapolis police officers is suing Chief Janeé Harteau, claiming she pushed for their retirement after demotions and later reassigned them to inferior positions.

Shortly after Harteau became chief in late 2012, she made clear her intent to enforce the previously negotiated elimination of the captain rank, which at the time constituted the department’s oldest employee group. According to the lawsuit, filed last week in Hennepin County District Court, she had been speaking publicly about her desire for older employees to retire.

In place of the captain positions, she created five “commander” slots that gave her the ability to appoint whomever she wanted. Traditionally, captain jobs had gone through open selection and were subject to civil service regulation.

None of the former captains was selected for a commander position, and all were slated for demotion to lieutenant if they didn’t retire.

The plaintiffs are Constance Leaf, Lawrence Doyle, Michael Martin, Sally Weddel and Isaac DeLugo, whose ages range from 48 to 60. All but Doyle have since retired, and Martin took a job as assistant director of the University of Minnesota’s Emergency Management Department.

The lawsuit claims that the five left their respective departments in better shape, received positive feedback about their performances and earned national reputations for the quality of their work. Harteau assigned them to positions that didn’t recognize their skills and training, it said.

“Their [the plaintiffs’] years of experience and contributions to the Police Department were simply swept aside as a byproduct of the antipathy to older employees,” the suit said.

The suit also alleges that the five captains, who had nearly 130 years total with the Police Department, were misguided by Minneapolis Police Officers Federation officials about future job protection.

Elimination of the captain rank had been approved by the union membership as part of a contract negotiation with former Chief Tim Dolan, said federation President Lt. John Delmonico. The former captains were to stay at their current pay until they left or retired, he said.

Police Department spokesman John Elder said Monday that the department cannot discuss pending litigation.

Bryce Miller, an attorney representing the captains, said the group has diversity and distinct work experience. Many captains have become chiefs at suburban departments, he said.

“Being a captain was an incredible steppingstone, and the whole thing got stripped away because somebody believes they were too old,” Miller said. “That’s what motivated them to say this isn’t right.”

During a department command staff meeting, Harteau demanded that the oldest employees raise their hands, the suit says. Leaf and DeLugo were forced to do so and felt humiliated, the suit alleges. Harteau also held private meetings with four of the captains, telling them to consider retiring or asking when they were going to retire.

Leaf, 53, supervised the forensic division and the crime lab, which has been recognized as a nationwide model. She was demoted to lieutenant working a night shift, an assignment generally reserved for newly promoted lieutenants.

Doyle, 51, was the first black officer promoted to captain in the department. (DeLugo was the second minority member to reach captain.) Doyle oversaw the recruitment and hiring of candidates, and improved the department’s diversity numbers. He’s now in charge of a precinct property crimes unit.

Martin, 48, served as inspector of the city’s North Side precinct and was the investigative commander after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. He was moved to head of the sex crimes unit. Harteau banned him from speaking and training engagements, even though he is considered a national gang expert, the suit said.

Weddel, 60, led the special operations division. She said Harteau promised her a promotion to deputy chief, then reneged. Weddel said she didn’t want to retire, but felt embarrassed that she was considered “old” at 60 and was not in the chief’s future plans.

DeLugo, 58, supervised the juvenile unit. The loss of the captain rank made it difficult for him to find comparable employment, he said. He said he was forced to resign in order to retire as a captain.