A city firewoman forced to retire due to mixed reports she was allegedly not fit for duty must be reinstated ordered a New Jersey administrative law judge.
Charlayne Powell must be reinstated as a city firefighter with back pay, legal fees, and seniority for the separated period, according to a New Jersey Civil Service decision issued September 16th, 2015. Powell was deemed unfit for duty after she returned from an eight-month – August 2011 to April 2012 — sick leave and was administered a fitness for duty examination.
Psychiatrist David Scasta administered the first examination on May 16th, 2012 and was unable to conclude whether she was fit for duty. He suggested she return to work and be observed by supervisors.
The city rejected Scasta’s results and directed him to re-evaluate and provide a conclusive report whether she is fit for duty or not. Scasta re-examined Powell and determined she was not fit for duty, according to state documents.
On November 29th, 2012, the city filed paperwork requesting involuntary disability benefits for Powell. That request was denied when independent medical examiner Richard Filippone determined Powell “was not totally and permanently disabled from the performance of her duties.”
A third re-examination by Daniel Gollin on January 2nd, 2013 found Powell overcame her depression and was fit for duty. A fourth psychologist David Gallina found Powell was not fit for duty on March 16th, 2013.
With two psychologist finding her unfit and two finding her fit, a fifth fitness for duty examination was scheduled.
Lewis Schlosser, the fifth psychologist, on January 30th, 2015, concluded Powell was not fit for duty.
Powell appealed the city’s removal decision to the state.
Schlosser made his determination based on the results and his interpretation of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) administered to Powell. The test determined the firewoman was “impulsive,” prone to “make poor judgments.” And she has “poor frustration tolerance,” tended to have “difficulties with anger” and interpersonal relationship, according to records.
Schlosser also found Powell was giving inconsistent answers and thought she was not forthright, according to documents. “If a subject is not willing to be open, honest, and demonstrate integrity, then that subject cannot be trusted to enter people’s home and perform the public services that a firefighter position requires,” testified Schlosser according to state records.
Schlosser was able to compare responses she gave in other fitness for duty exams that varied. Scasta, the first psychologist, wrote that Powell ostensibly cuts her wrist, on which Schlosser relied as one instance of inconsistency, except the firewoman only said she thought about injuring herself, but never actually carried it out, according to records. Gollin, during his examination did not find any scars on her wrist – wrist cutters often have scars from the cuts, according to records.
Schlosser took her negative response to mean an inconsistent answer, according to documents. He also administered a test called the Beck Depression Inventory which found “Powell was not depressed.”
The city determined she was unfit for duty because she was depressed, according to records.
Administrative law judge Jeffrey A. Gerson disagreed with the city’s decision. “City of Paterson’s suggestion that any person diagnosed with an episode of major depression, at any time, is not fit to be a firefighter, clearly contravenes public policy,” he wrote.
Gerson wrote such suggestions discourage public safety employees from seeking help. The judge did not find the fitness for duty examination reports that Powell was not fit for duty convincing.
There would have been a lengthy disciplinary history had certain personality traits some of the psychologists cited to preclude her from being fit for duty were impacting her job performance. “Other than few episodes of tardiness, Powell has a completely unblemished disciplinary record,” wrote the judge.
Powell was late to work on “several occasions” from in July and August of 2011, according to documents. “When Powell was confronted about her lateness, she muttered something disrespectful under her breath,” according to Gollin’s report.
Powell was likely experiencing a “depressive episode” at the time of the “disrespectful” utterance, according to one psychologist. She said she was never disciplined in her nine years working for the city except that one written reprimand for tardiness.
Powell has only “two minor legal issue,” according to documents. One involving an open-container charge from 2005 and another involving DYFS when she was attempting to gain custody of her son, according to records.
The judge found an interpretation by Scasta that smeared lipstick indicated she may be suffering from bipolar disorder or that it represented she was having a “clandestine interaction with another firefighter” as absurd calling it “preposterous.”
“Such speculation defies logic,” wrote Gerson.
Powell testified that the stressors that worked havoc on her mind have been vanquished. Her son is no longer involved in gang activity and is working towards a secondary education certificate. Her relationship with a second son’s grandparents has improved and he is staying with her, according to documents.
She testified that she was ready to perform the responsibilities of a firefighter.