Friday, April 24–OC Moves To Dismiss Cop’s Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY – Citing several earlier failed attempts at a favorable result at various different levels, the town of Ocean City last week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed last month in federal court by a long-time Ocean City Police Department member, asserting his need to find time to eat on the job because of his diabetes resulted in his wrongful termination in July 2007 in violation of his Americans with Disabilities (ADA) rights.

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

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, under Mr. Catrino’s protestations, to continue to work in a non-emergency situation without food.” Essentially, the case, which has been heard on several levels already, each time going against Catrino, boils down to a determination of whether the former officer voluntarily resigned when he left his position early, or whether the town wrongfully terminated Catrino in violation of his ADA rights.

In either circumstance, the case revolves in part around an alleged conversation Catrino had with Custer prior to his termination, in what appears to be a “he said, he said” situation. Catrino first presented his case in front of a neutral arbitrator as part of the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the town. According to the town’s motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit, it was during that arbitration hearing that it came to light Catrino made comments suggesting he voluntarily resigned his position, over a separate internal investigation and not because of his medical condition.

During the arbitration hearing, Ocean City introduced testimony from Catrino’s supervisor, Custer, that on July 21, Catrino, after a visit to headquarters regarding an internal investigation was “very, very mad,” and that Catrino told him “I’ve had it, I quit. I’m leaving.”

However, after the arbitrator ruled against Catrino and in favor of the town, the former officer filed a civil suit in Worcester County Circuit Court in an attempt to reverse the decision. During that action, Catrino denied having said, “I’ve had it. I quit. I’m leaving,” instead alleging he said, “I ought to quit,” and that he had permission to end his work shift early to get something to eat and tend to his diabetes.

Whether Catrino actually quit or said he ought to quit is a key component of any subsequent action, but the town contends the federal suit filed last month claiming ADA violations is moot because his case has been heard, and denied, at several appropriate levels already.

The Circuit Court reviewed the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement and issued a judgment against the former officer and confirmed the arbitrator’s decision. Currently, the former officer is appealing that judgment to the Court of Special Appeals in a case that is on a parallel course to the federal suit he filed last month.

“This case is plaintiff David Catrino’s fifth attempt and second set of counsel asserting Ocean City’s determination that he voluntarily quit his position as a police officer was wrong,” the formal answer reads. “The key question in this case is whether Catrino resigned voluntarily by leaving his post, or, as he asserts, whether Ocean City discharged him.”