Kelly Mennella, a former Suffolk Police officer, recalled yesterday how her pregnant stomach made it impossible to wear a bulletproof vest and how it was difficult to reach for her gun - and that the police department gave her the choice of working unsafely or not working at all.
She testified during the first day of a federal trial in which she and five other women officers are suing the county police department for discrimination.
Mennella, 34, of Smithtown, told a jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that, when she was seven months pregnant in 2001, she asked to be taken off patrol duty to work a desk job. But because of a policy change the previous year that didn't allow officers who suffered a non-work-related injury to request limited duty, Mennella was told she needed to continue working as a patrol officer or stay home without pay, she testified.
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"I realized asking for this would not be good for my career," she said during questioning by one of the officers' lawyers, Carmelyn Malalis of Manhattan.
When Mennella returned in January 2002, she said she wasn't welcomed warmly by her lieutenant. "He basically approached me and said I no longer had a future in the Sixth Precinct."
The civil suit contends that the department allowed certain male officers to be assigned limited duty while injured off the job.
"The evidence is going to show the policy affected pregnant officers the most," said one of the officers' attorneys, Cassandra Stubbs of the New York Civil Liberties Union, during her opening statement. "The defendant continued to make exception after exception for male officers."
Stubbs said the policy change put the six women in danger. "A pregnant officer was expected to go out on patrol alone, but without a bulletproof vest that would help save her life," she said.
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