Pennsylvania Verdicts

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Partially disabled lieutenant: I could’ve been placed in 911 unit

Amount:

$150,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Pennsylvania

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Injury Type(s):

mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Civil Rights – ADA; Government – Police, Municipalities; Employment – Disability Discrimination

Case Name:

Orlando DeStefano v. The City of Philadelphia,
No. 2:11-cv-06715-RB

Date:

October 24, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Orlando DeStefano (Male)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Lorrie McKinley;
McKinley & Ryan, LLC;
West Chester,
PA,
for
Orlando DeStefano ■ Jeffrey Campolongo;
Law Office of Jeffrey Campolongo;
Philadelphia,
PA,
for
Orlando DeStefano

Defendant(s):

The City of Philadelphia

Defense Attorney(s):

Toi A. Shields;
City of Philadelphia Law Department;
Philadelphia,
PA,
for
The City of Philadelphia ■ Diane A. Loebell;
City of Philadelphia Law Department;
Philadelphia,
PA,
for
The City of Philadelphia

Facts:

On April 12, 1965, plaintiff Orlando DeStefano began his employment as a member of the Philadelphia Police Department. As of the spring of 2008, DeStefano held the rank of lieutenant, a position that required him to perform both administrative work and duties in the street, as a commander of officers. On May 3, 2008, DeStefano was standing at a crime scene when his legs reportedly became wrapped up in crime-scene tape, causing him to fall to the ground. He landed on both knees, and subsequently was treated for injuries to his knees, ankles, cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. From the date of his injury until Oct. 15, 2009, DeStefano was on "injured on duty" status, pursuant to which he did not report to work but continued to receive his regular salary. On Oct. 15, following surgery and physical therapy, DeStefano returned to work as a lieutenant, but in a limited-duty position. He was unable to resume all of the duties of a police lieutenant as defined by the department; instead, he worked in a limited-duty capacity in the differential police response (DPR) unit, handling 911 calls that did not require a police response. On April 20, 2010, the medical director for the city’s employee-disability program interviewed and evaluated DeStefano. The director concluded that DeStefano was "permanently and partially disabled from returning to his pre-injury position as a police officer with the City of Philadelphia." The director also found that DeStefano’s disability was "not due solely to the injury on 05/03/08" and "that [DeStefano’s] failure to recover is the consequence of his preexisting underlying degenerative knee disease, worse on the right than the left." On May 3, 2010, the police department’s commissioner sent a letter to DeStefano informing him that the city had deemed him partially and permanently disabled, and that he would no longer be able to perform active police duty. The commissioner’s letter also informed DeStefano that he would be separated from the Philadelphia Police Department as of 11:59 p.m. on May 30, 2010. DeStefano’s status as "permanently and partially disabled" was the only basis for his separation. On July 13, 2010, DeStefano met a vocational counselor whom the city selected to interview DeStefano and determine what other positions within city government DeStefano might be able to fill pursuant to the city’s secondary-employment program. On Aug. 30, the counselor found a position for DeStefano in the city’s water department. DeStefano turned down the position, because it reportedly paid too little when compared to the salary that he had earned in the police department. On Nov. 30, 2010, DeStefano’s participation in the city’s secondary-employment program ended, and DeStefano was separated from any employment capacity with the city. DeStefano then sued the city, alleging disability discrimination and intentional discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. DeStefano’s counsel maintained that DeStefano had been able to perform essential job functions of the positions that he either held or desired to hold within the DPR unit, and that the city was therefore obligated to keep DeStefano as an employee. The defense maintained that because DeStefano could no longer perform essential functions of his job as a police lieutenant, the department was not obligated under the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA to retain him indefinitely, in a limited-duty capacity.

Injury:

DeStefano sought to recover unspecified amounts of damages for emotional distress, including embarrassment and humiliation.

Result:

The jury determined that DeStefano had proved: that he was a qualified individual able to perform the essential functions that he held or desired; that the city’s providing a placement for him in the DPR unit until the day he planned to retire (in January 2014) would have been reasonable; and that the city had failed to place him in the DPR unit on a long-term basis or provide any reasonable accommodations. The jury further found that it would not have caused undue hardship to the city to place DeStefano in the DPR unit until January 2014. The jurors concluded that DeStefano’s damages totaled $150,000.

Orlando DeStefano: $150,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Ronald L. Buckwalter

Trial Length:

4
 days

Post Trial:

Counsel for the city has motioned for a new trial.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on court documents and on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel.