A former employee of Bristol Township's sewer treatment plant says that the township
manager violated sections of the Family Medical Leave Act by refusing to process his paperwork and denying him proper sick time, according to a federal suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
John Cichonke, of Croydon in Bucks County, seeks damages from William McCauley, Bristol Township's manager, Scott Swichar, operations manager for Bristol and sewer department project manager, and the members of the township council for violations to his fourth amendment rights when township representatives investigated claims that Cichonke had been drinking on the job.
According to the complaint, Cichonke worked in the sewer department between 1988 and 2013. In 2010, Cichonke was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia (TN), a neurological condition that manifests as serious, debilitating pain to the patient's face. As a result of the pain, Cichonke would need to stay home from work occasionally, the complaint says.
In January 2013, Cichonke suffered extreme chest pain and initially diagnosed with a pulled muscle. His supervisor put Cichonke on light duty for several weeks. In February, Cichonke applied for intermittent FMLA benefits, which would put him on a reduced work schedule, and submitted a doctor-signed certification of a serious health condition.
The next day, Cichonke experience severe chest pain while on the job and was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors found blood clots in his chest. After a few days of treatment, Cichonke returned to work, where he was told by the township's human relations director that he needed a second certification because McCauley did not believe it was a serious health condition.
Cichonke obtained the second certification, even though he claims that McCauley and the township did not have a valid reason to request the document or refuse to process his original request.
On June 6, 2013, Cichonke called in sick because of a flare-up, according to the claim. During the day, he left his home to pick up medicine at the drug store. While he was out, Cichonke received a call from the president of his local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, of which he is a member and past president. At the current president's request, Cichonke agreed to come to the VFW and assist with some paperwork for about 30 minutes, the complaint says.
While Cichonke helped out, McCauley allegedly directed Swichar and former human resources officer Paula Kearns to find out if Cichonke was drinking alcohol at the VFW. The building is a privately run club, the complaint says, that allowed limited public access during special functions. In order to access the building during normal operation hours, visitors must buzz in and state the reason for entering the premises.
The claim says that Swichar falsely told the front door security officer that the township was interested in renting out space for a function, and he wanted to inspect the facility. The suit claims that this action constituted a warrantless search and violated Cichonke's fourth amendment rights.
A few days later, Swichar told Cichonke to submit to a breathalyzer test because he was under reasonable suspicion for drinking on the job. The complaint argues that Swichar not only had the proper reasonable suspicion as described by the township handbook, but he also had not received the proper training to either recognize the signs or conduct the actual test. Nevertheless, the claim says that McCauley ordered the breathalyzer anyway, and Cichonke's result came back negative.
The breathalyzer incident made Cichonke very upset, and he requested and received four days vacation to recover from the stress, the complaint says. On June 18, 2013, Cichonke needed to take another sick day for his pain and filed the FMLA paperwork. However, a letter hand-delivered by Swichar said that the plaintiff had exhausted all of his sick time and needed to return to work or face disciplinary action.
Cichonke claims that according to Bristol Township policy, employees are not subject to disciplinary action for using sick days when they are exhausted. Feeling pressure from perceived harassment from the township, Cichonke resigned his position that day.
During the next several weeks, Cichonke made multiple requests for copies of his FMLA documentation, including the two certifications. Each time, the claim says, Cichonke was told that the paperwork was on McCauley's desk "waiting to be signed."
Cichonke also says he is owed compensation for 144 accrued vacation hours, equaling a total of $,3,235.68, per the township's collective bargaining agreement. The claim says that McCauley also refused to authorize the check, violating the CBA that says an employee is entitle to 100 percent restitution of accrued time upon resignation or termination.
Cichonke is represented by Joshua Rubinsky of Brodie & Rubinsky in Philadelphia.
The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-04243-RB.