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Employment & Labor Law for Public Safety Agencies


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Suicide Related

     Monthly Law Journal Article: Suicide and Public Safety Officers: Disciplinary, Medical and Compensation Issues, 2007 (5) AELE Mo. L. J. 201.

     A guard at a state prison was stabbed eight times by an inmate, suffering 44 percent permanent disability to his neck and psyche. As a result, he accepted a demotion to an entry level computer analyst position in the information technology department of the prison medical unit, giving up his peace officer status. He had trouble in that position, and was told that he was not passing probation, and subsequently committed suicide by shooting himself. An intermediate California appeals court ruled that because the Workers Compensation Appeals Board found that the death had an "industrial cause," it was error to simply award a workers' compensation death benefit to the surviving spouse, since the special death benefit provisions for Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) members who were peace officers were applicable, and there should have been a joint calculation of the workers' compensation and PERS death benefits due to the surviving spouse. Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. WCAB, #C078345, 2015 Cal. App. Lexis 638.
     A jury has awarded $206,665.58 in back pay to a firefighter fired after she made a failed suicide attempt by setting a bathtub fire, as well as ordering her reinstated in her job with restored seniority. She had burned clothes in the bathtub, and tried to kill herself by inhaling the smoke. The plaintiff's claim was that her termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), based on her suffering from a disability of severe depression. She was prescribed different anti-depression medication after the suicide attempt, and medically cleared to return to work, but was then fired on the basis that setting the fire made her a danger to the safety of herself, fellow firefighters, and the public. In the lawsuit, there was expert testimony from two psychiatrists and a psychotherapist that there were no impediments to her returning to work. Wolski v. City of Erie, #1:08-cv-00289, (W.D. Pa.). Prior decision denying defendant's motion for summary judgment Wolski v. City of Erie, #1:08-cv-00289, 773 F. Supp. 2d 577 (W.D. Pa. 2011).
     The widow of a detective lieutenant who committed suicide argued that he had done so because of undiagnosed cumulative post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Her civil rights lawsuit against the department and its officials failed to establish that the defendants provided inadequate training on suicide prevention, suicide risk assessment, or the effects of CPTSD, in deliberate indifference to a known problem. Robischung-Walsh v. Nassau County Police Dept., #10-1596, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 8856 (Unpub. 2nd Cir.).
     Appellate panel reject claims raised by the estate of a N.J. state trooper who committed suicide, alleging coworker harassment because of his objections to a perceived practice of profiling motorists. "... the record fails to provide a basis for a reasonable inference that any of the actions that [the defendants] took were in retaliation against [the deceased] for complaining about racial profiling." The officer's "experience in the New Jersey State Police was undoubtedly negative, and his story is tragic. Yet we cannot find that he has a right to relief unless he can establish that his various statutory causes of action can be sustained according to their requirements or establish that the District Court abused its discretion in denying him leave to amend his complaint. He has not done so..." Estate of Oliva v. Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, #09-2082, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 9142, 109 FEP Cases (BNA) 367 (3rd Cir.).
     U. S. Army issues guidance for investigating officers who examine the suspected suicide of a soldier. Army Directive 2010-01: Conduct of AR 15-6 Investigations into Suspected Suicides (Mar. 2010).
      I have seen 4 or 5 people in the course of thousands of [police] pre-employment evaluations who actually attempted suicide. I have seen about 20 people who cut and self mutilated. Ive seen many more, though still not an extreme number, of folks who threatened/expressed ideation at some point in their life. Posting of a section member on the IACPs Police Psychological Services Section Listserver (2009).
      It was proper to award workers compensation death benefits following the suicide of a police lieutenant. A nationally-known researcher on police suicides testified that the "suicide was most strongly influenced by his work-related exposure to and involvement in the Cranford Township flood, the precipitating traumatic event." In New Jersey, compensation may be awarded if a suicide was directly caused by an acute post trauma stress reaction brought about by an incident-specific work event. Wilde v. Twp. of Cranford, #A-3391-07T2, 2009 WL 1025193 (N.J. App. Div.).
    Federal court rejects an ADA and FMLA challenge to the termination of a police sergeant that threatened to kill himself. Prichard v. City of Bryant, 4:04-cv-00660, 2006 WL 751296, 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 22720, 11 WH Cases2d (BNA) 882, Pacer Doc #41 (E.D. Ark. 2006), relying on Spades v. City of Walnut Ridge, #98-4119, 186 F.3d 897 (8th Cir. 1999). [2006 FP Sep]
     California appeals court orders the reinstatement of a police officer who, while off-duty, put a gun to his head and disobeyed an off-duty sergeant. There was no medical evidence supporting the claim he was dangerous or suicidal. Brazier v. City of Rialto, #E034910, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. Lexis 11403 (2004). [2005 FP May]
     Ninth Circuit rejects the suit of a former detective who claims constructive discharge because management purportedly terminated her because of her disability (depression and attempted suicide). However, she sufficiently alleged a claim of intimidation to warrant the trial of her lawsuit. Brown v. City of Tucson, #01-16938, 2003 U.S. App. Lexis 15061 (9th Cir. 2003). [2003 FP Oct]
     Second Circuit overturns the summary dismissal of a claim that a public employee was fired because her superiors thought she might be suicidal. Suicide is a mental illness and a protected disability under the Rehabilitation Act. Peters v. Baldwin School Dist., #02-7018, 320 F.3d 164, 2003 U.S. App. Lexis 2510, 13 AD Cases (BNA) 1793 (2nd Cir. 2003). [2003 FP Sep]
     Supreme Court declines to review an appellate holding that rejected federal death benefits for the widow of a police officer who killed himself due to job-related stress. Yanco v. U.S., #00-5058, 258 F.3d 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2001); rev. den., #01-674, 122 S. Ct. 921, 2002 U.S. Lexis 530 (2002). [2002 FP Apr]
     Employers cannot be sued for a suicide following an allegedly age-biased reduction in the workforce. Kulling v. Grinders, #99-74339, 115 F.Supp.2d 828, 2000 U.S. Dist. Lexis 15134 (E.D. Mich.).
     The fact a police officer that killed himself was suffering from stress is an insufficient basis to support a workers' compensation death benefit claim. Musa v. Nassau Co. Police Dept., #85645, 276 A.D.2d 851, 714 N.Y.S.2d 545 (App. Div. 3rd Dept. 2000). {N/R}
     Federal appeals court rejects ex-officer's ADA and FMLA suit to set aside his termination after he attempted suicide. Spades v. City of Walnut Ridge, #98-4119, 1999 U.S. App. Lexis 17894, 186 F.3d 897, 9 AD Cases 1015 (8th Cir.). [1999 FP 139-140]
     If medication corrects an illness, the individual is no longer a person with a federally-recognized disability. Murphy v. United Parcel Serv., # 97-1992, 119 S.Ct. 2133, 1999 U.S. Lexis 4370. {N/R}
     California appellate court holds that negligent treatment of a suicidal patient or worker extends to outpatient therapy. Kockelman v. Segal, 61 Cal.App. 4th 491, 1998 Cal.App. Lexis 104, 71 Cal.Rptr. 2d 552. [1998 FP 94-5]
     Federal judge dismisses a suit by brought by the father of an officer who killed himself, asking damages from the police chief. There was no evidence the chief knew of the officer's suicidal tendencies and workers' comp. laws provide an exclusive remedy. Hanrahan v. City of Norwich, 959 F.Supp. 118 (D.Conn. 1997). {N/R}
     Federal appeals court upholds termination of worker who twice tried to kill herself. Because she worked in a health care facility, caring for others, she could not be trusted to act responsibly. EEOC had claimed the employer was irrationally biased against persons who attempt suicide. EEOC v. Amego, 1997 U.S.App. Lexis 6455, 110 F.3rd 135 (1st Cir.). [1997 FP 124-6]
     Appellate court approves the award of worker's comp death benefits for family of police sergeant who killed himself. Deceased suffered stress from low performance evaluations. Chu v. WCAB, #D025723, 57 Cal.Rptr.2d 221, 49 Cal.App.4th 1176, 1996 Cal.App. Lexis 928. [1997 FP 93-4]
     Federal court in Chicago rejects the attempt of the EEOC to extend the "direct threat" exception to the ADA to the disabled person him/herself. The "direct threat" must be to others. (This case did not involve a suicide-related threat). Kohnke v. Delta Airlines, 932 F.Supp. 1110 (N.D.Ill. 1996). {N/R}
     Appellate court denies W.C. benefits to family of a police officer who fatally shot himself while on duty. His stress and drinking problems were caused by marital and personal problems. Kriete v. Port Auth. N.Y.N.J., 617 N.Y.S.2d 560 (A.D. 1994). {N/R}
     Kansas and Wyoming allow worker's comp benefits for suicides, both of which followed a compensable physical injury. State v. Ramsey, 839 P.2d 936 (Wyo. 1992); Rodriguez v. Henkle D&S, 828 P.2d 1335 (Kan.App. 1992). [1994 FP 45]
     City could require a police officer, on medical leave for attempted suicide, to release her psychiatric records before reinstating her to full duties. Disclosure requirement did not violate the A.D.A. Thompson v. City of Arlington, 838 F.Supp. 1137 (N.D.Tex. 1993). [1994 FP 77-8]
     Attempted suicide sufficient grounds to terminate a police officer, but not adequate to warrant termination of other public employees. City of Greenwood v. Dowler, 492 N.E.2d 1081 (Ind.App. 1986).
     Disputed psychiatric testimony can be supported by proven behavior. Officer's suicide threat, when taken with negative psychological evaluation, warranted his severance. Galas v. Ward, 564 N.Y.S.2d 117 (A.D. 1990).
     Demotion of police officer to unarmed civilian position was proper after suicide attempt; his alleged recovery irrelevant. Herman v. Cmwlth. Dept. of General Services, 475 A.2d 164 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).
     Uncorroborated accusations of sexual harassment dismissed by court where employer proved the employee lied about drug use, an attempted suicide and prior terminations. Churchman v. Pinkerton's Inc., 756 F.Supp. 515 (D.Kan. 1991). [1992 FP 45]
     Widow accepts $7,500 to settle suit against the Postal Service following her husband's on-the-job suicide. Complaint alleged harassment, retaliation and disability discrimination. Barnes v. U.S. Postal Service, #93-162, 32 (1576) G.E.R.R. (BNA) 982 (E.D.Cal. 1994). {N/R}
     Deputy sheriff who suffered severe anxiety from assisting a teenage gunshot-suicide victim was not entitled to recover workers" comp. benefits. Mental and stress claims must be accompanied by a physical injury in Montana. Stratemeyer v. Lincoln County, 855 P.2d 506 (Mont. 1993). {N/R}
     Suicide attempt is not compensable in South Dakota when produced solely by mental stimuli or stress, even if work-related. Lather v. Huron College, 413 N.W.2d 369 (S.D. 1987).
     Police officer was properly discharged following suicide attempt resulting from stress of marriage, career, and finances, despite conflicting evidence. City of Greenwood v. Dowler, 492 N.E.2d 1081 (Ind.App. 1986).


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