Friday, October 14, 2011

Neither GML §207-c nor a statutory equivalents distinguishes between categories of mental illness or disability for the purposes of eligibility for benefits


Neither GML §207-c nor a statutory equivalents distinguishes between categories of mental illness or disability for the purposes of eligibility for benefits
Matter of Wydra v City of Rochester, 2011 NY Slip Op 06780, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

In this action the Appellate Division held that standards applicable in determining an individual’s eligibility for §207-c benefits were equally applicable in a local law, rule or regulation providing similar benefits.

§8-A-6 of the City of Rochester’s Charter set out a “the local equivalent of General Municipal Law § 207-c.” When Petra Wydra, a City of Rochester police officer, challenged the City’s discontinuing its payment to her pursuant §8A-6 of the Charter terminating her employment as a police officer the Appellate Division concluded that Wydra’s petition should be granted.

The court said that §8A-6 of the Charter “provides in relevant part that the Chief of Police, on behalf of the City, shall compensate any member of the Police Department ‘who is injured in the performance of his or her duties or who is taken sick as a result of the performance of his or her duties . . . .’ [and] The parties agree that the section of the Charter in question is the local equivalent of General Municipal Law § 207-c.”

Although an arbitrator found that Wydra's disability is unrelated to her job duties and that she therefore is not entitled to benefits, the Appellate Division disagreed, finding that the arbitrator’s ruling was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Essentially the arbitrator found that Wydra suffered from depression and anxiety, and that she was unable to work as a result of those conditions. Thus, said the Appellate Division, the dispositive issue is whether there is a "direct causal relationship between [Wydra's] job duties and the resulting illness or injury."

The decision notes the following guidelines to used in determining if there is, in fact, a “direct causal relationship:”

Neither §207-c nor the City’s Charter section, “require that [employees] additionally demonstrate that their disability is related in a substantial degree to their job duties."
§207-c, and be inference, the City’s Charter, merely requires "a qualified petitioner . . . [to] prove a direct causal relationship between job duties and the resulting illness or injury.” Further, a preexisting non-work-related conditions does not bar recovery under §207-c where the individual demonstrates that the job duties were a direct cause of his or her disability.

The court noted that “even the City's expert witness, who evaluated [Wydra] several times, agreed that she suffered from depression and anxiety and that her condition "is certainly related to the job." Significantly, the Appellate Division said that “[t]he fact that the City's expert testified that Wydra had not suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is of no moment, inasmuch as General Municipal Law §207-c does not distinguish between categories of mental illness or disability.”

The Appellate Division also annulled the arbitrator's determination that Rochester could lawfully terminated Wydra’s employment as the sole basis for the termination, as stated in a letter to Wydra from Rochester’s Chief of Police, was that she was "continuously absent for more than one (1) year due to a non-work related disability."
The court explained that “[i]nasmuch as we have concluded above that [Wydra] is entitled to benefits under the Charter because her disability is work-related, it necessarily follows that the termination was improper.

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General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://section207.blogspot.com/ for additional information about this electronic reference manual.

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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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