Lawsuit: Female recruits for Nebraska State Patrol subjected to sexually invasive exams

Nebraska patrol required invasive exams for female hires, lawsuit alleges

Story highlights

  • Male doctor performed "unnecessary" vaginal and rectal exams, lawsuit alleges
  • Most male candidates were not required to have this exam, according to lawsuit

(CNN)She thought she was going in for a routine pre-employment physical check-up.

Instead, Brienne Splittgerber says in a lawsuit, she was subjected to an examination that was "medically unnecessary and sexually invasive."
Splittgerber was applying to the Nebraska State Patrol, after having worked at several other law enforcement agencies.
    At the physical exam, "she was ordered to undress, lay on her back, and pull up her knees," said her lawyer, Omaha civil rights attorney Tom White.
    Splittgerber accuses Dr. Stephen Haudrich, who was selected by a company contracted by the state patrol, of subjecting her to unnecessary vaginal and rectal exams, said the lawsuit, which was filed last week and obtained by CNN.
    She accuses the doctor, the state patrol, the state, two former patrol heads and various other individuals of discrimination and creating a "hostile and dangerous work place for women."
    The state patrol would not comment on the lawsuit, but a spokesman said the agency has stopped all physical exams since December 2016, as it neared the end of the recruitment process for this class and there was no need for them.
    According to a March 2017 email exchange attached to the lawsuit, the state patrol had said the exam was to check for hernias in both men and women.
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    But most male candidates, with the possible exception of one, were not required to undergo a similar exam, according to the lawsuit.
    Splittgerber did become a trooper, and she says attempts to inform her superiors about the invasive exams were brushed off for almost three years until she hired an attorney.
    In the meantime, the exams of recruits continued for months, she says.
    Gary Young, a lawyer who represents the State Trooper's Association, told CNN that several other women have made similar allegations against Haudrich.
    Splittgerber's lawyer said his client had been excited at the prospect of following in the footsteps of her father, who was also a state trooper.
    "What she wants is a state patrol that had the integrity and leadership of the patrol that her father long served," said White.

    Lawsuit prompts review, criminal investigation

    Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says he ordered a review of the matter after he learned about the allegations in June. The governor and his chief human resources officer Jason Jackson released a 15-page report last week, detailing the findings.
    The governor's report said the Nebraska State Patrol's "sexual harassment and workplace discrimination policies should be revised to address non-sworn and third party agent conduct." It also recommended that all NSP leaders should "immediately participate in sexual harassment and equal opportunity training."
    The report blames Brad Rice, the colonel who led the agency for two years, for many of the problems plaguing the agency. The report found that he had meddled in internal probes, violated harassment policies and downplayed reports on the use of force. Rice, who is named in the lawsuit, was fired in June. Rice did not respond to CNN's calls.
    "The review sought to determine the validity of the concerns that were raised, while also recommending corrective measures," Jackson said in statements posted on the governor's website. "We will work swiftly... to implement these initiatives in the coming months. Before the end of the year, we will provide an update on progress in the areas identified for improvement."
    Eric Maher, the governor's spokesman, told CNN he could not comment on the specific allegations.
    "However, as the governor's report outlines, NSP's response to a recent allegation of sexual impropriety was insufficient and fell below the expectations of leaders in state government," Maher said.

    Emotional distress

    Splittgerber's exam was conducted by Dr. Haudrich on September 11, 2014.
    The lawsuit says Splittgerber thought "she was required to submit to Dr. Haudrich's instructions as a condition of employment as a sworn officer of the State Patrol."
    It also said that Haudrich claimed he was "acting in accordance with the State Patrol's instructions" at the time of the examination. It's not clear if any other doctor carried out similar exams on recruits.
    Haudrich did not respond to several attempts by CNN to reach him, and no one from the medical group Haudrich works for responded to CNN's calls.
    Splittgerber says after her personal physician told her that there was no legitimate medical purpose for such a procedure, she "suffered from severe emotional distress which has caused loss of appetite, an inability to sleep properly, anxiety and other physical symptoms."

    Reports ignored

    Splittgerber says she reported the questionable, invasive exams to her superiors in the fall of 2014, and was told an investigation was underway.
    She later found out that another class of female troopers was subjected to the same examinations by the same doctor, according to the lawsuit.
    In February 2017, Splittgerber followed up with Col. Brad Rice.
    A month later, after she told Rice she had hired an attorney, an email exchange between counsel for the Nebraska State Patrol and counsel for the State Troopers Association of Nebraska made it "clear the plaintiffs concerns were being dismissed and the events covered up," the lawsuit claims.
    Young, whose law firm represents the State Troopers Association of Nebraska, said the association repeatedly contacted the state patrol administration and its legal division to complain about the doctor's exams.
    "Nothing ever took place. They did not fix the problem despite many, many months asking for action," Young told CNN. "They responded with some, what I could call eyewash -- we were stonewalled."
    Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas told CNN that the medical group that had contracted Dr. Haudrich would be replaced with a new provider in September.

    "Outrageous conduct"

    "Subjecting the Plaintiff and other female trooper candidates to a medically unnecessary and sexually invasive procedure is outrageous conduct which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is utterly intolerable in a civilized community," White, Splittgerber's lawyer, says in the lawsuit.
    It seeks a jury trial and compensation for economic damages and mental pain and suffering as well as attorney's fees and punitive damages.
    The lawyer representing the trooper's association said he hoped the governor would fix the problem.
    "There's an absolute need for women in patrol to feel safe so they can carry out their duties as a trooper," Young said. "The problem was, these women felt coerced into doing this."