December 07, 2010

Employee disciplined for disruptive behavior alleges charges were based on the employer's perception of a disability

Employee disciplined for disruptive behavior alleges charges were based on the employer's perception of a disability
Robinson v NYS Division of Human Rights, 277 AD2d 76

The appointing authority orders an employee who is exhibiting disruptive behavior to report for a drug test or for a physiological evaluation. Does such a directive constitute unlawful discrimination on the grounds that the employer has a perception that the employee has a disability? Such directives were the basis for New York City corrections officer Michael Robinson filing discrimination complaints against the New York City Department of Corrections.

According to the decision by the Appellate Division, First Department, Michael Robinson had a number of disciplinary problems over a period of time. In 1984 he accepted a command discipline penalty of two pass days for being absent without leave. This disciplinary action was followed by a pattern of lateness, unexcused absences and volatile behavior, including use of excessive force against inmates and verbal abuse of superiors and fellow officers.

Robinson was ordered to submit to urinalysis and to undergo psychiatric evaluation in connection with charges of attendance and conduct deficiencies during 1984 and 1985, as well as the investigation of an automobile accident on December 19, 1984.

As a result, Robinson filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights [DHR] contending that DOC had discriminated against him on the basis of perceived disabilities. Robinson subsequently filed additional allegations of unlawful discrimination, claiming that DOC had retaliated against him in response to Dorr’s finding of probable cause by first suspending and then terminating him.

The New York State Division of Human Rights found that DOC had unlawfully discriminated against Robinson by creating a hostile work environment based upon a belief that Robinson was mentally unstable or under the influence of drugs. It awarded Robinson $75,000 in compensatory damages and directed DOC to reinstate him to his former position.

Although the Appellate Division vacated Dorr’s decision for technical reasons based on timeliness, it commented that were it to have to decide on the case on its merits, it would find Robinson’s allegations of harassment to be baseless.

The Appellate Division explained that “[t]here is ample evidence of [Robinson’s] erratic and hostile conduct to warrant subjecting him to physical and psychological evaluation.”

The fact the test results were negative were apparently not considered relevant as the court commented that it noted that Robinson’s behavior continued to be erratic.

The court concluded that “considering DOC’s responsibility for the safety of its officers as well as the inmates they oversee and its exposure to liability for any injury that might result ... its precautions cannot be viewed as unreasonable or discriminatory.”
NYPPL

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