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Plaintiffs speak out about discrimination lawsuit over physical testing by Colorado Springs police

January 25, 2018 Updated: January 26, 2018 at 6:27 am
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Officers from the 67th graduating class of Colorado Springs Police Department sit and listen during the commencement ceremony that took place at Village Seven Presbyterian Church on Friday January 12, 2018 in Colorado Springs. The class was the largest one thus far for the department. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Two of 12 female police officers who sued the city over a physical aptitude test they said discriminated against women and harmed their careers clarified Thursday they're not against fitness requirements for officers as long as they're "fair and legitimate."

"We never argued that being physical wasn't a part of being a law enforcement officer, what we're saying is it's not the only thing," retired Colorado Springs Police Lt. Magdalena Santos said. "Most of the things that we do have to do with speaking, developing relationships, making sure people solve their problems ... being physical is a small part of it."

However, the physical aptitude test, or PAT, that officers were required to take in 2014 did not accurately reflect their ability to carry out those physical duties, Santos and fellow plaintiff Geri Pring argued alongside their attorneys, Donna Dell'Olio and Ian Kalmanowitz of Cornish and Dell'Olio P.C.

The test evaluated officers based on how many push-ups and sit-ups they could do in a minute, as well as how quickly they could complete two running tests. A minimum score of 20 was required to pass; those who did not reach that score were placed on light duty and faced termination if they did not pass at a future date.

Santos and Pring were among 25 officers who did not pass the test on the first try (in all, 636 were tested). More specifically, they were among 14 women over the age of 40 who didn't pass, bolstering their argument that the test imposed disproportionate challenges on the demographic.

As a result, they were stripped of their uniforms and moved to assignments without physical requirements - such as making arrests - despite being highly decorated officers with a combined 50 years of experience.

Santos called the disciplinary action "demeaning," and "insulting." Pring said she was "completely demoralized."

Both have since left the department, along with a third plaintiff. Santos is a director of campus safety at a local university, and Pring is a police officer in Casper, Wyo. Nine other plaintiffs remain on the police payroll.

"If you look at the evaluations of the 12 women involved, there's nothing in our about 200 years of experience that shows we cannot do our job," Santos said. "I was an excellent employee. I took this test and all of the sudden I'm no longer a valuable law enforcement officer."

If the city wants to test an officer's strength or endurance, those tests should be "job-related, something that they connect directly to a duty that we have," Santos said. Those exercises could include dragging a weighted dummy or climbing a fence, the women said.

Or it could mirror the physical fitness test Pring said she participated in when applying to the police department in Casper. Recruits were still asked to complete timed push-up, sit-up and running tests, but the minimum benchmarks were staggered based on age and gender - much like in the military, Pring said.

"A 25-year-old male does not have to do what a 50-year-old male does," Pring said. "I feel that was very much more appropriate."

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch already has ruled in the women's favor, saying in July that the test "shamed and ostracized" the 12 plaintiffs while providing "meaningless" results.

While the ruling led CSPD to halt all physical fitness testing, the city said in a statement last week that it stands by the test, the validity of which "is supported by the high passage rate of police officers who finished the test during the 2014 testing process (approximately 98 percent)."

The police department also intends to eventually reinstate some sort of physical fitness standard, spokesman Lt. Howard Black said. The department is "evaluating what those tests will look like," he said.

To end a drain on city resources, however, the city did agree last week to settle the lawsuit for $2.4 million, of which $800,000 will be paid to attorneys and the remaining $1.6 million split between the plaintiffs.

Attorneys Dell'Olio and Kalmanowitz balked at the city's persistence, adding that in their months of research they were unable to find any other department in the country that terminated officers for failing a fitness test like the PAT.

But they celebrated their victory.

"Because of the courage of these women, no CSPD officer, male or female, young or old, will have to endure the indignity of being denied recognition as a police officer because of failure of this test," or, more specifically, "because of their inability to run around some cones quick enough," Kalmanowitz said.

"It's over as far as we're concerned," Dell'Olio said.

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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