A lieutenant in the Metropolitan Police Department who said she suffered psychological problems after facing retaliation at work should be considered an employee injured in "performance of duty," the District of Columbia Court of Appeals said.
A three-judge panel yesterday reversed the police department's decision to charge Lt. Ronda Nunnally with sick leave for missing work. Nunnally claimed she suffered psychological injuries due to retaliation from coworkers after she complained of sexual harassment by a superior.
Uniformed police department employees are not charged sick leave for injuries they sustain "from the performance of duty," according to yesterday's opinion. The appeals court was asked to decide whether Nunnally's claims met that standard.
Nunnally, according to the opinion, prevailed in a sexual harassment claim she filed in 2004 against a supervisor; the supervisor was fired. Nunnally said she missed work because of "psychological trauma" she suffered after facing retaliation from coworkers over the next three years.
The police department denied her non-chargeable sick leave and a D.C. Superior Court judge affirmed that decision.
Judge Catharine Easterly, writing for the court, said the D.C. law governing sick leave for uniformed members of the police department didn't define the phrase "performance of duty." A broad reading of the term would include the type of injuries Nunnally claimed, she said.
The phrase, in the context of Nunnally's case and similar claims, "broadly encompasses any injury-physical or psychological-incurred while an MPD officer is working, i.e., performing her duties," Easterly wrote.
Judge Corinne Beckwith and Senior Judge Vanessa Ruiz also heard the case.
Solo practitioner Frederic Schwartz Jr. represented Nunnally. "Now the court's made very clear that if you're on the job and you suffer psychological injury, from whatever source, that is a performance of duty injury," he said in an interview today. He added that "performance of duty" injuries carry more benefits.
A spokesman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, Ted Gest, said his office was reviewing the decision. A police department spokeswoman could not immediately be reached.
Kristopher Baumann, chair of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an email today that the court had "uncharacteristically … taken a strong stance against acts of harassment and retaliation by upper levels of management at the Metropolitan Police Department." The Fraternal Order of Police did not represent Nunnally because she was a member of management.
"Hopefully, this case will cause the courts in the District to provide more careful consideration and respect to members who complain of the retaliation that is endemic to the MPD's management culture," he said.
Updated at 3:50 p.m.