When Joni Keiner, a Champlin police officer for eight years, had her first son in 2006, she was able to work at full pay until the week he was born, as had other female officers on the force before her.
When she was expecting her second son, however, she and her husband were surprised to learn the only light-duty job the financially strapped city had to offer carried a pay cut of more than $5,500.
Her hours and pay rate were reduced beginning in March for two months, and then the job lasted only until mid-May, when she had to begin using sick leave and vacation until her son was born earlier this month.
Police union officials said Keiner, 30, was treated unfairly. Keiner declined to comment, saying, "I can't answer questions, as much as I'd like to. I told the chief and deputy chief I wouldn't."
Police Chief David Schwarze said Keiner was placed on light duty cataloging evidence, which is not a police union job, because that was the only job he had available to offer her. Because it was not a police union job, her pay was reduced to the top level for a community service officer.
She also was cut to 30 hours a week and her pay rate was reduced from $32 to about $20 an hour when she moved to the job in March, said Isaac Kaufman, general counsel for the Law Enforcement Labor Services, Keiner's union.
Schwarze noted that Keiner was a school liaison officer during her first pregnancy, which wasn't potentially dangerous like her current work as a patrol officer. Therefore, she did not need a reassignment as her pregnancy progressed.
"Officer Keiner does a good job. I did all I could within my authority to get her what I could," the police chief said. As for cutting her hours and limiting the length of her reassignment, he said, "I feel bad we weren't able to give her light duty for the duration she wanted. If I had it, I'd give it to her."
He said that the city is dealing with a tight budget, and that his department of 26 sworn officers has limited job flexibility.
Smaller departments may have manpower or budget limitations, but most larger departments, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Burnsville, Bloomington, Plymouth, Roseville and the State Patrol, have good policies for pregnant officers, said Mylan Masson, a past president of the Minnesota Association of Women Police.
At some departments, though, "If a guy is hurt playing softball, he gets light duty. But if a woman gets pregnant, they want them to use sick leave or vacation or comp time," said Masson, director of the law enforcement program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Leaders of police women's associations said Champlin was taking a step backward in dealing with female officers.
"It is very disturbing to hear that this still goes on in the year 2009," said Laura Goodman, board chairman of the International Association of Women Police. Goodman, who is also public safety director at the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul, said the association had dealt with many police pregnancy issues in the 1990s and earlier. "We thought police departments had got it and changed their ways in dealing with women," she said.
Schwarze said Keiner was not forced to take the light-duty reassignment and the accompanying early sick leave. "We offered her light duty for two months and she took it." He noted that light duty is a city prerogative to be offered only if available.
Because light duty is an entirely discretionary city policy, Keiner's union has no solid basis to file a labor grievance, said Kaufman. "As a legal matter, past practice does not establish practice that the city could be held to in her situation," he said. The union doesn't handle discrimination cases for officers, but Keiner could seek private counsel, he said.
A policy statement on Champlin's website says the city doesn't "discriminate on the basis of disability in the admission or access to, or treatment or employment in, its services, programs, or activities." Schwarze affirmed "we don't discriminate in employment. Pregnancy is no different than an on-duty injury." He said Keiner's treatment "had nothing to do with being pregnant or not."
At least two former Champlin officers, Rosemary Mengelkoch and Joleen Pitts, said they also received full pay during pregnancies and worked until shortly before delivery when they were employed by the city in the 1980s and '90s. Mengelkoch, now a corporate security director who also teaches at St. Mary's College, said she worked at full pay as a Champlin detective and school DARE officer during her three pregnancies.
"There is no standard practice," Mengelkoch said. "You are kind of at the mercy of having an ethical department willing to work with you on it."
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658