SHERIDAN, Colo. (KDVR) — Alexandra Gonzales and her husband Nate never thought having their first child would lead to her dismissal from the Sheridan Police Department.
“I was incredibly stunned and very mad and frustrated,” said 32-year-old Alexandra, who added she didn’t feel she should have to choose between her baby and her job, saying, “No, I don’t think anybody should.”
Alexandra was due in mid-June. In mid-January, she provided a note from her doctor that read, in part, “We recommend patient be put on Light Duty to avoid any Physical altercations.”
“Anything can change in a split second,” said Alexandra, referring to patrol work. “A fight for your life in a matter of seconds and putting a baby at risk is not worth that. So it was important to get off the street and have that light duty.”
Alexandra said Sheridan Police Chief Jeffrey Martinez told her his department is too small with 34 officers to allow her to be on light duty. The Problem Solvers obtained Alexandra’s termination letter which states, in part, “given light duty was not an option you could voluntarily separate in ‘good standing’ or if not, the City would have to terminate your employment.”
Alexandra’s husband works for a different law enforcement agency and told FOX31 he found it hard to believe Sheridan Police couldn’t let his wife help with records or assist detectives with investigations from her desk — anything but patrol work.
“It is frustrating and very disappointing coming from a career field where your whole purpose is to help and protect others, serve others. You would think they would want to take care of their own so their employees can have that happy healthy family and not have to risk their safety,” said Nate.
The termination letter signed by Sheridan Police Chief Martinez goes on to state, “to leave your position vacant for such a lengthy time presents operational and staffing issues for the department, which is exacerbated give the limited size of the Department.”
Employment law attorney Paula Greisen told the Problem Solvers it’s possible Sheridan may be violating either state or federal law.
“It doesn’t really pass the smell test for a police department to say they don’t offer light duty to anyone.”
Sheridan Police Chief Martinez declined an interview with the Problem Solvers, calling the termination a personnel issue but in a statement to FOX31 wrote, “I assure you applicable local, State, and Federal employment laws were followed.”
The Federal Family Medical Leave Act doesn’t apply to Alexandra because she hadn’t worked for the Sheridan Police Department at least a year.
It’s questionable whether Colorado’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act applies either. It says employers must provide “reasonable accommodations,” including “Light Duty, if available.”
Sheridan Police said light duty wasn’t available but attorney Paul Greisen doubts that.
“It’s very hard to believe that if one of their officers breaks a leg while chasing down a suspect, that they won’t find some work for him or her to be able to do while that leg mends.”
The city of Sheridan officially fired Alexandra on February 24 and posted her position on March 5.
No word on how long it will take to hire her replacement.
In the meantime, Alexandra has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.