Hard Labor

updated 12/09/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/1991 01:00AM

POLICE OFFICER DEANNA HALL WAS ON routine solo patrol in the Detroit suburb of Novi one recent afternoon when the call came over her car radio: A man was menacing his girlfriend with a knife. Rushing to the scene, Hall found that the boyfriend had fled. But shortly afterward the man started walking back to his girlfriend's house. "He had a stick in his hands," says Hall. She confronted the suspect and got him to put down his weapon. She then promptly arrested him for felonious assault. It was, as she says, "just another day"—save for the fact that Hall, 26, was nearly eight months pregnant.

If Hall had her way, she wouldn't be chasing down criminals in her delicate condition. But her request to be temporarily relieved from her grueling 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. patrol has been rejected by the Novi Police Department, leaving her perplexed and angry. Three weeks ago Hall reached the breaking point: No longer able to tolerate ill-fitting uniforms and verbal harassment from her bosses, she filed a sex discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "I was backed up against the wall," she says. "I had no place else to go."

Hall's dilemma is the result of a 1982 city policy that says municipal employees with non-work-related disabilities (including pregnancy) can use accumulated sick time and vacation time and then take an unpaid leave for up to a year—but that's all. For Hall and her husband, Mark, it's not enough. Since she is relatively new to the Novi force, having transferred from Detroit only two years ago, she would have only a month of paid leave, and the couple could not survive for several months more without her income. "We would have lost our house and our cars," says Mark, 30, a U.S. Border Patrol agent. "We didn't really have an option."

A Detroit native who joined the police department there in 1986, Deanna is a former vice-squad officer who came to Novi welcoming the challenge of patrolling without a partner, which Novi (pop. 33,000) provides and Detroit does not. All went well until she discovered she was pregnant last April and her request for light duty was denied. Senior officers were reluctant to issue her larger uniforms as her pregnancy advanced, says Hall, who went from 120 lbs. to 160 lbs.

During her third month she strained a stomach muscle while subduing a drunken prisoner, but the two days of disability leave she took triggered a flurry of verbal abuse. One officer, she says, complained that she was "going to milk this pregnancy for all it was worth." Hall claims that the supervisors of the male-dominated force—only four of Novi's 51 officers are women—are insensitive to the needs of its female members. Hall was aware that the department had no maternity leave before she became pregnant, but she was hoping the policy would be changed when her union bargained for a new contract earlier this year.

For their part, city officials say they sympathize with Hall. "Everybody's uncomfortable with having a police officer at this point in her pregnancy actually working the road," says assistant city manager Craig Klaver. But he insists that Novi is bound to follow a federal antidiscrimination law that he says requires employers to treat pregnancy as they do other temporary nonduty disabilities—even though he admits that other cities do offer pregnant police officers restricted-duty assignments.

Hall doesn't expect any such luck before her baby is due on Dec. 12. She plans to stay on patrol as long as she is physically able, but the stress is taking its toll. "She has good days and horrible days," says Mark. "Sometimes she'll come home and just sit down and cry." Meantime, Hall is just waiting and hoping for a healthy baby—and girding herself to return to the job after the child is born. "I may change things," she says, referring to department policy. "But I don't think I have much of a chance of being promoted."

PAULA CHIN
FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Novi

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