May 31--Krystal Nix expected her pregnancy to enrich her life, but it ended her city police career.
It didn't seem fair to her. It didn't seem legal. Her attorney agrees with her.
The former Brooksville police officer vividly remembers giving Chief George Turner the news of her impending motherhood.
Nix assumed Turner would give her a light duty assignment until she took maternity leave. After giving birth, she thought her job in patrol would be waiting for her.
Turner told her to talk to human resources.
Then came the news that floored Nix.
There were no light duty assignments available for a pregnant police officer. Even worse, she needed to decide whether to resign or be terminated, she said.
Nix was hired at 21 years old. She had a good rapport with Turner, she said, and made it known to him and everyone else she wanted to become a detective someday.
"After all the things I've done for the department, this is how it had to end," said Nix. "A lot of the things I did were above and beyond my job."
Nix, now 27, posed as a prostitute while working undercover in 100-degree weather. She did undercover drug buys. She worked surveillance. She assisted with search warrants. She helped with major cases. She worked midnights. She assisted other police agencies with additional undercover work. For more than a year, she was the lone female on the city's department.
"I stuck my neck out for him," she said of Turner. "I was a good employee."
Turner declined to discuss Nix's performance. He deferred most questions to City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha.
Turner said as soon as Nix told him she was pregnant, she asked about her options and he told her to go to human resources.
"That was basically how the conversation went and I haven't had another conversation with her since then," he said.
Nix told a different account. "The look on his face was priceless," she said, recalling the closed-door meeting she had six months ago in which she told Turner of her pregnancy.
"Well, I don't really know what to do with you," Nix remembered him saying.
The chief thought for a few more seconds and asked whether she could continue working in patrol -- at least until she was five or six months pregnant, she said.
"I was like, 'Seriously?'" said Nix. "I was flabbergasted."
Norman-Vacha declined to comment because of the threat of litigation made by Nix and her attorney. A request to view Nix's employment records was not answered Wednesday by the city clerk.
Nix said once she was told by the human resources director in December she could not work light duty, she immediately took maternity leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
It was during her leave that she was told she either had to resign or be fired. Nix said.
Her lawyer, Richard Merker, said light duty is offered to any male officer who is injured on the job. The same protections should apply to pregnant employees.
Once the city learned Nix had hired a lawyer, it changed its position and offered Nix a part-time job after her maternity leave is over. Officials reportedly offered her 20 hours per week analyzing red light camera images.
The job meant less money and no benefits.
"At that point I think it was just too little too late," said Merker.
Nix said she hopes one day to return to the career she loved. But she plans to do it someplace else.
"I definitely want to get back into it," she said of law enforcement. "I love it. I just don't love Brooksville."
Nix's case is being reviewed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
The probes could lead to a number of possibilities. There could be a finding that leads to the EEOC taking over the case and defending the plaintiff in the event of a federal civil action.
Such investigations -- particularly by the EEOC -- can take months and even more than a year.
Merker said his client has the option after 180 days to sue the city of Brooksville on her own if she believes her civil rights were violated. No final decision has been made.
"It appears that Ms. Nix probably has a pretty good case," said City Councilman Joe Bernardini.
"Considering our city manager has a human resources background, I'm really surprised she let it get to this point."
Merker said the challenges Nix faced day after day being the only female police officer were significant. Turner's perceived ignorance of family medical leave was consistent considering the culture of the workplace, he said.
"It was another rock on a pile," said Merker. "It was a heavy burden to carry for her."
Nix said one of the sergeants in the department told her to her face he didn't think women belonged in law enforcement.
One former officer, Marc Davidoff, was assigned light duty in the office last year. He was fired after making a pass at a female inmate who was doing work detail at the police station. Davidoff later pleaded guilty to battery and received one year of probation.
Nix was passed over three times for detective -- including once in favor of Bryan Drinkard.
Drinkard was fired earlier this year and later arrested on stalking and theft charges.
Nix wasn't always the only female Brooksville police officer.
In December 2010, the chief accepted the resignation of Elvira Ozborn, who was part of the local police force for almost two years.
Ozborn quit after she was involved in a patrol car accident along U.S. 41 near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. She struck a homeless woman who had darted across the road.
The incident shook Ozborn, who was heard screaming and crying for several minutes on an audio recording.
A short time later, Ozborn tried to get her job back, but Turner refused.
He reportedly said at the time he didn't think she was cut out for law enforcement work.
Copyright 2012 - Hernando Today, Brooksville, Fla.