Firefighter says supervisors harassed him during disability leave

January 28, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel County firefighter who had been placed on medical leave for stress was harassed by supervisors who accused him of malingering, persuaded his doctor to reverse his disability status and peppered him with phone calls at his home in an effort to get him back to work, a Circuit Court judge was told yesterday.

Raymond J. Schmidt of Pasadena, a firefighter for 13 years, was subjected to "continual harassment" by supervisors after going on medical leave for job-related stress in 1992, his attorney, John P. Rufe, said.

Mr. Rufe told Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. yesterday that former fire Chief Paul Haigley ordered Mr. Schmidt into his office Oct. 27, 1992, called him a malingerer, then walked out on him after Mr. Schmidt fell on the floor and "showed symptoms of a heart attack."

Instead of calling for help, the chief left the office, "whistling" as he walked down a hallway, Mr. Rufe said.

"Is all of this outrageous and atrocious behavior on the part of the Fire Department? You bet," Mr. Rufe said.

County officials deny the allegations, which were made during a pretrial hearing yesterday. County attorneys asked Judge Goudy to dismiss the $1.3 million suit Mr. Schmidt filed Sept. 23, 1993. Chief Haigley resigned last month to take a similar post in Florida.

John F. Breads, Jr. an assistant county attorney, argued that the suit failed to adequately state grounds to back up its claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Fire officials' efforts to get Mr. Schmidt back to work were not harassment and fail to meet legal standards for emotional distress claims, he argued, adding that calling an employee a malingerer in private meetings does not constitute defamation.

"It's a common and accepted term used in the employer-employee relationship," he said.

Judge Goudy took Mr. Breads' dismissal request under advisement.

The suit names as defendants former Chief Haigley, Battalion Chief Michael F. X. O'Connell, Division Chief Charles A. Parks and Capt. John Herath. It alleges that the four men harassed Mr. Schmidt as he sought disability status for "physical and psychological difficulties."

The suit says that Mr. Schmidt's problems began in April 1992, when he began experiencing "heightened recurrences of his physical and psychological difficultes" and took a leave of absence.

When he returned to his job in September 1992, Mr. Schmidt was advised to see a physician, who told him that he was temporarily unable to work because of physical and psychological difficulties.

The suit alleges that Chief O'Connell telephoned the physician, Dr. Ram Restoggi, and called Mr. Schmidt a malingerer.

The conversation prompted the doctor to rescind his opinion approving the disability status and instead direct that Mr. Schmidt be placed on light duty, according to the suit.

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