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Under Hillman, troopers alleged bias

4 won challenge to pregnancy policy

Reed V. Hillman, set to be introduced today as gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey's running mate, ran the State Police when the agency was sued by four pregnant troopers who alleged discrimination and were later awarded a total of $1 million in punitive damages.

In 1998, four female troopers sued the State Police over a new policy that barred pregnant and injured troopers from serving in a full-duty capacity. The policy established a modified duty program for troopers who were temporarily unable to perform all ''essential functions," and prohibited them from driving a cruiser, wearing a uniform, working overtime, working paid police details, or having contact with prisoners or the public except in emergencies.

That year, the State Police also agreed to a secret $290,000 payment to a female trooper who said she was raped on the job at the State House by a male trooper and sexually harassed by another. The men were later cleared of the allegations during court martials, but a spokesman for the State Police said the department felt pressured to settle the case because the woman had complained to her supervisor about the harassment and he had done nothing about it.

Another female trooper was paid $90,000 after filing a lawsuit when the Logan Airport barracks' female bathroom and shower facilities were demolished to make room for a new workout area.

The cases were well publicized at the time. Last night, Healey confirmed that she had selected Hillman as her lieutenant governor running mate. Asked by a reporter about the rape allegation that occurred during his leadership at the State Police, Healey said: ''I'm very proud of Reed Hillman's record as colonel of the State Police," she said. She did not take further questions.

Healey, currently the lieutenant governor, is seeking to become the first woman elected governor in Massachusetts. Jane Swift became acting governor when Paul Cellucci left office midterm.

Hillman did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment. He was appointed by Governor William F. Weld to lead the State Police in 1996 and headed the agency until 1999, when he ran for the state House of Representatives, where he served through 2004.

Hillman acknowledged in April 1998 that criticism that his agency was hostile to women was a ''fair rap," the Globe reported at the time. ''We have not done the job to make this as friendly a workplace as it should be for females," Hillman told the Globe. ''We have made mistakes. I will take every step to make sure every female in this agency feels her talents are valued."

The office of Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, now a Democratic candidate for governor, defended the State Police policy regarding pregnant troopers when it was challenged in court.

When the lawsuit was filed, a State Police spokesman defended the policy, saying that it was created to protect pregnant women from harm and the department from liability. The policy was also created to provide objective criteria for determining when troopers could no longer perform all the tasks deemed essential to the job. Among them: roping large animals off roads, shoveling snow, and mowing lawns.

But Timothy Burke, the lawyer for the women who sued, said the threshold was set only for pregnant troopers. Candidates for the force were not required to complete those tasks as part of their physical exam, he alleged.

''It was clearly, on its face, discriminatory," Burke said yesterday. ''The physical fitness standard that was applied was artificial in the sense that only pregnant women were held to the standard of having to be able to rope a steer, lift a 650-pound motorcycle off the highway, and a number of the so-called tests that really didn't measure the ability of a trooper, whether they be male or female, to perform their responsibilities."

One woman, a homicide investigator, was not allowed to interview witnesses or drive a cruiser after becoming pregnant. When she refused to comply with the reduced status the state doctor insisted on, she was not allowed to work and was not paid for three months.

The policy was intended to be voluntary, at the request of employees who were temporarily unable to perform all the functions of the job. The women said they appreciated that the department would give them the option of avoiding dangerous situations while pregnant. But they complained they were forced onto modified duty after announcing their pregnancies, regardless of their individual duties. The decisions were made based on recommendation of a department physician, even when personal obstetricians found them fit to work, they said.

Cellucci ordered the Executive Office of Public Safety to rewrite the rules after the women filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1997. Despite the rule change, the women sued in April 1998 in Suffolk Superior Court, arguing that the policy was discriminatory. A 14-member jury, which included 11 women, agreed and in 2002 awarded the women $300,000 for emotional distress and $47,000 for economic losses, in addition to $1 million in punitive damages.

By the time of the 2002 court decision, Hillman had left the State Police and been elected to the House. He told the Globe at the time that he was ''very disappointed by the verdict" and that he had worked with the public safety office to modify the pregnancy policy. He continued to defend the former policy as ''fair and objective."

''I felt and still feel that these types of decisions should be made by the department physician," he said in 2002.

Burke, the women's lawyer, said the case ''brought women out of the 19th century as far as pregnancy was concerned. ''I think the significance of the verdict as a punitive damage award is an indication of what the jury was thinking: $1 million in punitive damages is a lot of money."

Kathy McCabe and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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