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Pregnant state troopers complain of restrictions

When Boston police Detective Kathleen O'Toole disclosed to her supervisors 10 years ago that she was pregnant, they let her decide when to exchange her beat for an office job.

They didn't ask if she could run up 10 flights of stairs, mow the station house lawn, or rope a horse or cow and pull it off a roadway.Today, O'Toole, now the state's secretary of public safety, has to come up with a new policy after some pregnant troopers, all veteran investigators, complained that they were pulled off the street because they couldn't complete such tasks.

The physical requirements became mandatory in April, and the state police physician - not the woman's doctor - was put in charge of determining when an officer should be put on modified duty. Officers on modified duty can't walk the beat, make traffic stops or even drive police vehicles.

That's a big change from when O'Toole was pregnant. She was allowed to drive her unmarked police car to the office and had a say in choosing her work - teaching cadets and running background checks on prospective employees.

"I felt like a valued employee," she said. "I didn't have to shelve my career for nine months, and I was able to work until the day before I had the baby."

Four veteran investigators brought their complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are not allowed to work overtime and are restricted to using the phone or driving their own cars to conduct interviews for their cases.

Lisa Butner, who refused the modified duty status, then was ordered onto "no duty" status and told to return to work after her pregnancy.

"They kept telling me I would be forced out of work and would have to use my sick time," Butner said. "And I kept saying, `I'm not sick.' "

On Wednesday, acting Gov. Paul Cellucci ordered O'Toole's office to rewrite the rules.

"The one about moving the cow off the road was a little ridiculous, in my view," Cellucci said. "We should not have policies that basically put these roadblocks in the way of working women."

O'Toole said she agrees, and would look to other states for a better example.

Like Massachusetts, California has a list of difficult physical tasks troopers must be able to perform, including pulling a 200-pound person from a car and wrestling down a suspect after a 100-yard dash. The difference is that the women and their doctors have a say in determining at what point in their pregnancy they can no longer do such things.

"We never run into an issue with this because most of these gals are smart enough to get off the road when it comes time," California Highway Patrol spokesman Kelly Young said. "They know their body better than anybody."