Commission Awards $75K to Corrections Officer for Emotional Distress in Asthma Case
The Middlesex County Sheriff's Office is appealing the decision.
The Middlesex Sheriff's Office has appealed a decision ordering the office to pay $75,000 in emotional distress damages and back pay to a former corrections officer who said she was discriminated against because of her asthma, according to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
The decision was issued Aug. 20 by a hearing officer, and appealing the decision sends it to the entire three-person commission for review.
According to the complaint against the sheriff's office, Donnalyn Sullivan, who worked as a corrections officer since 1990, had asthma that acted up badly when she was outside in cold weather for prolonged periods of time.
For most of her career, Sullivan performed duties that kept her mostly indoors—she was a caseworker and transportation officer, mainly.
In 2005 she mistakenly left her gun in a bagel shop after removing her utility belt to use the bathroom, according to the decision.
As a result, her gun permit was indefinitely suspended and she was removed from her transportation duties, in which she drove inmates to and from court appearances.
Instead of reassigning her to a post that required mostly indoor work, her supervisors assigned her to a predominantly outdoor post inspecting vehicles entering the Billerica prison, the commission's decision says.
Despite requesting to be reassigned several times to a post that was mostly indoors, she was assigned to the vehicle-inspection post about 96 percent of the time, according to the decision.
Being regularly posted outdoors caused her asthma to get worse, the decision says.
It also says that when she filed a complaint, in 2007, with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the sheriff's office pushed her into disability retirement.
The decision found that to be an act of retaliation against her.
As a result of being removed from her job and being ostracized by her former friends at work, Sullivan suffered emotional distress, according to the commission's decision.
The decision ordered the sheriff's office to reinstate her, pay her back wages and $75,000 for the emotional distress.