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Appellate Court Affirms City’s Termination Of Police Officer For Failing To Take Drug Test And Dismisses Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claim

By on April 26, 2013 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

John Lance, a police officer for the City of Camden, New Jersey, was injured on May 10, 2004 in a work-related motor vehicle accident.  He received medical and temporary disability benefits in workers’ compensation.  However, he alleged that his workers’ compensation benefits were improperly terminated in October 2005.

On June 12, 2004, about a month later, Lance was directed to appear at police headquarters for a drug test.  He appeared and was given documents pertaining to the drug test.  He stated that he was unable to understand the documents and requested assistance.  When told he had to sign the documents, he refused and the test session was terminated.  The City then served disciplinary charges against Lance seeking his termination for failure to undergo the City’s drug test.

The City conducted hearings on the disciplinary charges in November 2005 and January 2006. Lance claimed that he was not able to defend himself at the hearing because of cognitive impairments which were exacerbated by his inability to obtain medical treatment after the termination of his workers’ compensation benefits.

On January 23, 2006, the hearing officer issued a report recommending termination of Lance’s employment.  The City proceeded to discharge Lance. Around the same time, hearings continued in the Division of Workers’ Compensation, and Lance prevailed in his claim for continued temporary and medical benefits.  Ultimately, the City paid $189,892 in temporary disability benefits and $65,220 in medical benefits. Plaintiff also received an accidental disability pension, which would pay him two thirds of his salary free of federal taxes, and free of state taxes until age 65.

Following his termination, Lance sued and claimed that the City violated his right against unreasonable searches and seizures by making him submit to a drug test.  He further claimed that the City retaliated against him for successfully obtaining workers’ compensation benefits and retaliated against him by delaying payment of his temporary disability benefits.  The trial court dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims and Lance appealed.

The Appellate Court rejected plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim:

While plaintiff alleged that he did not understand ‘what was going on’ when he appeared for the test, he provided no affidavit or certification supporting that allegation.  A police officer who unjustifiably refuses to comply with an order requiring that he undergo a drug test cannot be said to be performing his job in a manner that met the employer’s reasonable expectations.  Plaintiff provided no evidence showing that his refusal to submit to the test was medically justified.

As for the claim for retaliation due to the filing of a workers’ compensation claim, the Court acknowledged that there is a cause of action in New Jersey for retaliatory discharge for seeking workers’ compensation benefits.  In this case Lance contended that the City unlawfully retaliated against him for seeking workers’ compensation benefits by delaying payment of his temporary disability benefits. “The trial court correctly ruled that this claim should be pursued in the compensation case pending before the Division of Workers’ Compensation, in which plaintiff was seeking additional disability benefits.”

Regarding plaintiff’s charge that he was wrongfully terminated for successfully obtaining workers’ compensation benefits, the court said that Lance failed to offer any proof on this count.  “Plaintiff presented no evidence from which a fact-finder could conclude that the City ordered the test or discharged plaintiff because he obtained workers’ compensation benefits.”

This case can be found at Lance v. City of Camden, A-3157-11T3 (App.Div.April 18, 2013).

 

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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