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Cancer Survivor, Monroe Police Officer Fights For His Job

Published: August 11, 2017

Monroe Police Officer Andrew Wall, a 21-year resident of Sandy Hook, has filed a lawsuit against the town of Monroe “and its employees” in his effort to return to work after nearly two years of battling and surviving brain cancer. A letter dated July 8 from the office of Paes & Paes LLC of Sandy Hook, and addressed to Monroe Town Clerk Vida Stone, Police Commission Chair Ronald L. Villani, and Police Chief John L. Salvatore, serves as a “notice of intent to commence action.”

The action is for “damages and injuries sustained arising from the department’s discrimination against Mr Wall based on his disability and/or perceived disability …” and continues to claim denials of lawful protections and violations of his civil rights and public policy, and “breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing …”

The suit states that the town of Monroe “would not take him back to work,” and that he was also offered a settlement, which he declined. The paperwork states that “Clearly, despite being certified by his physician as able to perform his job,” Mr Wall has still not been returned to duty. “Mr Wall has not been put back on the payroll, and has not, to date, been allowed to perform any of his duties.

“Mr Wall will look to Monroe to recover all damages as provided by law …”

Also, last month began Mr Wall’s pre-termination personnel hearing, July 17. Although the hearing, which he chose to make public, began that day, it ended without resolution as the Board of Police Commissioners adjourned without conclusion, said Chair Ronald Villani. No date has been set, but the hearing will continue. Paes & Paes will not speak for Mr Wall through his hearing. Per procedure, police union representative John Miller will represent Mr Wall.

 

Timeline

Mr Wall documented his days since diagnosis. In a timeline of events and through a collection of letters and various paperwork, he tells his story of fighting cancer, and his current struggle to return to work.

Mr Wall, a 22-year Monroe Police Department veteran, was first diagnosed with glioblastoma in September 2015. He began chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and entered a trial drug program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Complications during treatment nearly killed him. He states in his timeline: On December 9, 2015, was hospitalized when the chemotherapy compromised his bone marrow and “he had no platelets left in his blood and was bleeding to death.” Fifteen days in the intensive care followed. Mr Wall was in a coma “for a period of this time,” and at one point his family learned that within a 48-hour period, he could either “respond to treatments and start to come out of this deadly situation, or would succumb to it and pass away.” But 48 hours later, he began to improve.

After being released from the hospital, he relapsed, then started a series of “intense treatments” with specialists in Danbury and Boston, including a bone marrow biopsy. His marrow was not normal until October 2016.

Later that same month, on October 31, the Town of Monroe sent Mr Wall a letter via certified mail as well as regular mail, that noted Article 6, section 6.04 of the contract between the Town of Monroe and his union, AFSCME Council 4. The letter indicated that he had been absent for a period of one year effective September 20, 2016. Pursuant to the bargaining agreement between the town and his union, he had 60 days from the time he received the letter to present certification from his physician that he would be able to perform his job as a police officer within 18 months of September 20, 2015. Failure to comply with this contractual requirement could result in his employment termination, the letter stated.

By December 15, 2016 — less than 60 days — Mr Wall provided a letter from Dr David Reardon stating that Mr Wall planned on returning to work. Just a few lines long and signed by David Reardon, MD, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the letter confirmed Mr Wall was a patient under his care, that he and Mr Wall had “discussed his return to work,” and that he was “planning to return to work in the near future.”

By mid-January, Mr Wall received another letter from the town regarding “noncompliance” that said, “Dear Mr. Wall: On October 31, 2016 you were notified in writing that … pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement you had within 60 days of receipt of the notification to present certification from your physician that you would be able to perform your job as a police officer within 18 months of September 20, 2015.

“Recently on December 15, 2016 you sent a physician’s correspondence to the town which failed to comply with the terms and requirements of Article 6 section 6.04 of the contract. Please be advised that you have until January 31, 2017 to comply with the terms of the contract.”

Detective Bill Lazzara had requested the extension through January 31 via an internal memo, Mr Wall said.

On January 24, Detective Lazzara sent a memo (e-mail) to the Monroe Human Resources director stating: “After taking 33 days to review the Doctor’s letter from Andrew Wall, and find it is non-compliant you request/require a ‘Physicians correspondence’ that complies with Article 6 in the contract between the Town and AFSCME Council 4. At that time the Union believed that they have followed the letter and intent of the contract.”

This memo also states, “You have given Wall 7 business days to contact and schedule a meeting with his Doctor, David A. Reardon, Clinical Director for Neuro Oncology at Dana-Farber Institute, one of the busiest oncologists on the east coast of the United States. This request is unreasonable and cannot be met. He has a pre-scheduled meeting with Dr Reardon in early February. You will receive more information after this appointment.”

As his struggle progressed, Mr Wall tried to return to light duty. However, as of August 4, he is still waiting to return to work.

On February 13, 2017, Mr Wall received another letter from the town after he asked for additional time to meet the contract terms. The letter stated that “you have until February 28 to comply with the terms of the contract.”

In late March, Mr Wall provided the Town of Monroe with a note from Dr Robert Kloss, director of oncology at Danbury Hospital, and also one of his treating physicians, stating that he could return to work with no restrictions.

The March 15 note states, “It is my understanding that Andrew wants to return to work and I am releasing him to work full time without restrictions. Signed, Dr Robert A. Kloss”
On March 16, the Town of Monroe notified the Union that they wanted to have a meeting on March 20, 2017 to discuss Mr Wall’s status.

The union filed grievances as spring turned to summer, leading to the most recent July 17 hearing, which Mr Wall chose to open to the public.

 

Medal Of Valor

Mr Wall noted the medal of valor award “I received from the department the day before I received the invitation to the first pre-termination hearing.

“I also noticed that the award I received says ‘…and is currently cancer free,’ and that is signed by the first selectman and Mr Villani.” Both men are named in Mr Wall’s lawsuit.

As noted on the certificate of the medal of valor is the statement: “Officer Wall took an immense risk and volunteered for an experimental treatment program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He entered the treatment program with 51 other patients with the same type of cancer. Officer Wall is the sole survivor of the treatment program. He has returned home to his family and is currently cancer free. During his 18-month struggle, Officer Wall has remained positive and has done everything in his power to fight this cancer and return to work as a police officer … Therefore, for his bravery and courage … Officer Wall is hereby presented with the medal of valor.”

This statement is among the reasons Mr Wall believes help make his argument that he should be allowed back to work.

 

Still Waiting

Still waiting for answers, Mr Wall said on July 28, “They were looking to fire me for things I have been exonerated of, so I don’t know why we’re still doing this.” Doctor’s letters clearing him to return to full duty are one point of contention. Lawsuit paperwork states that reason for “not accepting me to return to employment is insufficient and without basis.”
Frustrated that his hearing has been delayed, Mr Wall said, “I knew it would come to push comes to shove.”

Since filing the lawsuit, and following the July 17 hearing, Mr Wall has received, “No response from anyone, about anything,” he said.

Past Police Union (AFSCME Council 4) president, Detective Bill Lazzara, said that the Monroe Police Commission is looking at two dates for the hearing, later this month, but one has not been set yet. Hoping for answers on that date, Det Lazzara said he will remain positive.

Current President Jeff Loomis has heard of two possible dates — August 15 or 22, most likely 22, he said — but those days are not confirmed. “We’re not getting answers and waiting to hear the decision,” Mr Loomis said about the hearing.

Mr Villani said on Monday, August 7, that he would not comment on the hearing, but is aware that various attorneys and commissioners involved “were trying to come up with the next date.”  Attorneys are “trying to orchestrate” when the hearing will continue, he said. “I think we are all waiting to hear results of the scheduling.”

Monroe Police Department reports to the commission, which will make the decision regarding Mr Wall’s employment.

An e-mail inquiry from The Newtown Bee sent to Monroe First Selectman Stephen J. Vavrek’s office, asking about a date for the hearing, received a reply from Administrative Assistant Tanya Bambero. She did not have information about a hearing date, but wrote: “…however you can contact the attorney’s office for the Police Commission.” The firm is Ciulla and Donofrio, LLP, North Haven, and the attorney is Jeffrey Donofrio.

Attorney Donofrio, via e-mail, received questions from The Newtown Bee on August 8, asking why the town/police commission seeks to terminate Mr Wall’s employment, and whether the language in doctors’ letters was sufficient for Mr Wall to continue his employment with the police department.

He replied that, “My firm represents the Police Commission. This is a pending matter; thus, I decline to comment on the substance or merits of the matter. To my knowledge, a date to continue the hearing has not been selected.”

Meanwhile, Mr Wall works when he can at other jobs outside of his career, because he has not been paid in five months.

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