Friday, March 6–Cop Sues Ocean City Over Job Loss

OCEAN CITY – A long-time member of the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) filed suit this week in federal court, asserting his need to find time to eat while on the job because of his diabetes resulted in his wrongful termination in July 2007 in violation of his Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rights.

Former officer David Catrino, through his attorney Robin Cockey, on Wednesday filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking injunctive relief and an undisclosed amount of compensatory and punitive damages against his former employer, the town of Ocean City, for wrongly denying him a reasonable accommodation to which he believes he was entitled under the ADA. Catrino, who has diabetes, was dismissed in July 2007 when he left his assigned post to go home and eat shortly before his scheduled shift was set to expire.

Catrino, who started with the OCPD in 1994, informed the department in February 2007 he suffered from diabetes and requested an accommodation to have regular meals in non-emergency situations. According to the complaint, Catrino continued to work with the requested accommodation without incident until July 21, 2007, when his supervisor, Corporal Albert Custer, “knowingly required him, over Mr. Catrino’s protestations, to continue to work in a non-emergency situation without food.”

As a result, it became medically necessary for Catrino to leave his assigned post and go home, which he did with Custer’s knowledge, shortly before his scheduled shift was to expire. He was later terminated because, as the suit complains, his departure prior to the end of his shift was interpreted by his supervisor and other department officials as a resignation.

“Nonetheless, although Custer and other officials in the department knew of Catrino’s disability, knew of his reasonable accommodation, knew he had been denied that reasonable accommodation and knew he had gone home without detriment to his work duties because of medical consequences produced by his failure to eat, Ocean City nonetheless took the disingenuous position Catrino had voluntarily resigned and refused to allow him to return to work,” the complaint reads.

Catrino filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) not long after his termination alleging he had been subjected to discrimination based on a perceived disability. In December, the EEOC issued a so-called “right to sue” letter after determining his case had merit, which essentially opened the door for the suit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

Diabetes as a legitimate reason for protection under the ADA is a fairly timely issue with similar cases starting to sprout up around the country. Just last month, a federal appeals court ruled Type-2 diabetes patients may be entitled to the protections of the ADA. The high court’s ruling reversed a decision in a lower court to dismiss a case brought by an Arizona man who alleged his employer, a public utilities company, discriminated against him by pushing him out of his job because his treatment regimen prevented him from performing certain aspects of his work.

According to the suit filed by Catrino this week, Ocean City’s alleged misconduct violated the ADA in that it effectively deprived him of a reasonable accommodation and punished him because of the predictable ensuing “sequelae” of that deprivation.

“Ocean City then consummated its statutory violation be effectively firing Mr. Catrino on the bogus theory he had voluntarily resigned by leaving his workplace early due to his temporary physical incapacity,” the complaint reads.

The suit is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensatory and punitive damages. It is also seeking an injunction compelling to town to reinstate Catrino, or in the alternative, compel to the town to pay the former officer front pay.