Former Philly cop sues over ouster

By Jon Campisi | Jan 9, 2012

A former Philadelphia police officer who claims she was fired because of work-related injuries has filed a job discrimination lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and the police department’s leading official.

Newtown, Pa. attorney Alexis I. Zafferes, of the Law Offices of Brian M. Puricelli, filed the civil action Jan. 5 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Melissa Smith, a former 9th District police officer who was relieved of her duties in the fall of 2010.

According to the complaint, Smith, who was hired by the police department in September 1995, sustained work-related injuries about a decade later after her patrol vehicle was struck by a drunk driver.

The incident caused Smith to sustain injuries to her right leg, right elbow, neck and back. Smith had to be placed on injured-on-duty status and was subsequently placed on limited duty.

Smith had surgery on her right ankle in July 2007, but had to have the surgery redone the following summer due to complications, the suit states.

After the second surgery, Smith put in for restricted duty, which she was subsequently given.

Then, in November 2009, Smith was given the choice of either returning to full active duty or to be terminated, the suit claims.

Smith applied for, and received, “non-service connected disability” retirement, the lawsuit states. Under police directives, this means Smith would be able to return to employment within one year.

In August 2010, Smith was cleared by her doctors to return to full active duty, but the following month she was denied reinstatement, the complaint states.

In late September, Smith filed an appeal, which was rejected by the police department in late November 2010.

The lawsuit claims that the city and police officials discriminated against Smith because of her disabilities. They did this by “deceiving her into filing for a non-service connected disability; denying her reinstatement to the Police Department after being medically cleared for full duty and having passed all police requirements to return to full duty; [and] rejecting her appeal for reinstatement.”

“Other Police Officers, upon having retired from the department, based on either a service connected or non-service connected disability were reinstated upon request,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff was treated differently because of her race, sex, color and/or disability, in that she was denied reinstatement.”

Smith is an African American female.

Smith seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, front and back pay, attorney’s fees and other legal relief.

Smith also seeks declaratory judgment that the city and police commissioner violated her rights, and to enjoin the city from aiding or abetting the policy, practice and custom declared unconstitutional.

The federal case number is 2:12-cv-00045-CDJ.

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