Depression resulting from being served disciplinary charges not a disability for the purposes of Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Youngs v Village of Penn Yan, 291 AD2d 852
Youngs v Village of Penn Yan, 291 AD2d 852
A Village of Penn Yan police officer was suspended without pay for 30 days effective February 18, 1993. Found guilty of insubordination, the penalty imposed was a reprimand and the officer was directed to report to work effective March 22, 1993.
On the advice of his physician, the police officer did not report for duty on March 22, and subsequently applied for performance of duty disability retirement. His application was approved effective October 2, 1993 and the Retirement System told the Village not to pay any salary to the officer after October 1, 1993.
The officer had filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that he was injured on February 18, 1993 and that his injury was depression. His claim was rejected by the Workers' Compensation Board based on its finding that the "major depressive illness was brought about by the ongoing frustration he perceived in his police work." This, said the Board, does not of itself rise to the level of compensability. The Board also considered other factors such as "the trauma of the arrest of [the police officer's] brother [and] the disciplinary action taken on February 17, 1993...."
The Board found that the officer had not sustain an "injury arising out of and in the course of the employment" within the meaning of Workers' Compensation Law Section 10 because the term injury "shall not include an injury which is solely mental and is based on work related stress if such mental injury is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action ... taken in good faith by the employer."
The police officer next sued the Village, seeking damages in the amount of $25,000, his unpaid wages from March 18, 1993 through October 1, 1993, together with his medical expenses since March 18, 1993. He claimed that the Village actions in not paying his wages and medical expenses during this period violated Section 207-c of the General Municipal Law [GML]. A State Supreme Court justice determined that the officer was not entitled to GML Section 207-c benefits and the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed the lower court's ruling.
The Appellate Division explained its decision as follows:
1. A police officer is entitled to GML Section 207-c wages and benefits if he "is injured in the performance of his duties or ... is taken sick as a result of the performance of his duties."
2. A determination by the Workers' Compensation Board that an injury is work-related does not, "by operation of collateral estoppel, automatically entitle an injured employee to GML Section 207-c benefits," citing Balcerak v County of Nassau, 94 NY2d 253.
3. Conversely, the fact that the Board found that the officer did not sustain an injury in the course of employment is not dispositive of the issue concerning his entitlement to GML Section 207-c benefits.
The court, however, commented that the findings of the Board are relevant, particularly where, as here, they are the only evidence in the record concerning the nature of plaintiff's injury.
The frustration that the officer experienced at work and the disciplinary action brought against him involved a dispute that he had with a superior officer, and did not relate to the actual performance of his duties as a police officer. According, ruled the court, the injury sustained by the police officer is beyond the scope of GML Section 207-c.
On another issue in the case concerned certain "premium pay payments" the Village had provided the officer. The officer complained that he should not be required to reimburse the Village for alleged "overpayments of longevity pay and an Associate Degree stipend for the fiscal year from June 1, 1993 to May 31, 1994." The court responded "[w]e disagree."
The Appellate Division decided that the Village had calculated the officer's longevity payments and his Associate Degree stipend based on its expectation that he would be employed for the entire year. Accordingly the court ruled that they "were subject to adjustment pursuant to the contract between the parties" and thus the officer was entitled to the "premiums" only for the period from June 1, 1993 to October 1, 1993.