Nebraska patrol under investigation for allegedly requiring vaginal exams for women

Getty images

OMAHA, Neb. — A new federal lawsuit has accused the Nebraska State Patrol of forcing female recruits to submit to invasive, medically unnecessary pelvic exams before they can be hired.

State Trooper Brienne Splittgerber filed the lawsuit Tuesday against the patrol, the state and various other people, accusing them of creating a hostile work environment for women.

“Immediately upon learning of these allegations in June, the Governor instructed his Chief Human Resources Officer to review this matter, which has subsequently resulted in a criminal investigation by the State Patrol,” Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said in a written statement Wednesday.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, saying women recruits for years have been required to undress from the waist down for a vaginal and rectal exam. The lawsuit says Splittgerber was told the exam was required to check for hernias, but male recruits were generally not required to undress or undergo such invasive exams.

Splittgerber submitted to the exam in 2014 before she was hired by the patrol in 2015, saying in her lawsuit that she was required by a Lincoln doctor hired by the patrol to remove her pants and lie on her back, then her stomach, to be examined.

Splittgerber complained to her superiors after being told by her family doctor that there was no legitimate medical purpose for the exam. She was told an investigation was underway, the lawsuit says, but was disturbed that female patrol candidates from subsequent recruitment classes continued to be sent to the same doctor to submit to the exams.

Dr. Karen Carlson, an OB-GYN with Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, said it would be highly unusual to conduct a pelvic exam for a possible hernia. Pressing the abdomen with a hand would be standard for such a check, she said.

“There would be no reason to look in the genital or anal area,” Carlson said. “We might have them loosen their pants, but I wouldn’t think there would be any need to disrobe.”

The lawsuit says Splittgerber sued after her complaints about the exams went unanswered or investigated by officials.