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Public Employee's Damages from Involuntary Disability Separation

State ex rel. Baroni v. Colletti, Supreme Court Slip Opinion (October 19, 2011). This case addresses a public employee's right to recover lost wages and vacation leave credit after returning to work following an involuntary disability separation.

Baroni was the former Superintendent in the Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare Facility in Summit County, Ohio. His employer involuntarily separated him from employment due to his disability. State law permits such a separation if the employee has a physical or mental disability that incapacitates him from performing the essential functions of his position. State law also permits a state employee to request reinstatement within two years following the disability separation if he can present objective medical evidence that he is no longer incapacitated from performing the essential functions of his position.

Baroni applied for reinstatement on December 28, 2009 by submitting a letter from his treating physician dated November 25, 2009 to support his request. His employer referred him to another physician for an independent medical examination. The state examiner opined that Baroni was capable of returning to his former position of employment with restrictions but was not capable of performing all the physical functions of his position. Baroni attended a pre-reinstatement hearing conducted by his employer and was granted reinstatement effective February 16, 2010. The employer denied Baroni's request to be paid for his lost wages ad credit for vacation leave between November 25, 2009, the date of his attending physician's report, and the date of his reinstatement on February 16, 2010. The Public Employee then filed a complaint in mandamus seeking an order compelling his employer to pay him his lost wages and vacation credit.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Baroni was entitled to his lost wages and credit for his vacation leave during the interim period since his employer approved his request for reinstatement. To decide this issue, the Court reviewed Ohio Adm. Code 123:1-30-1 et seq.; the provisions in the Administrative Code that govern involuntary disability separations. Baroni argued that these provisions supported his claim for back pay and vacation leave credit from the date of his doctor's report to the date of his reinstatement. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Relying on R.C. 124.32, the Court concluded that the duty to reinstate an employee could only be based on a medical report of a designee appointed by the appointing authority. That designee may be a physician, physician assistant, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse practitioner or a nurse-midwife. Even though the employer ultimately granted Baroni's request for reinstatement, the state was not obligated to rely on the date of his attending physician's report as the start date of the relief Baroni requested.

The Court also reasoned that the State did not conclude that Baroni could perform all the physical functions of his position. Based on this evidence, the state was not required to reinstate Baroni during the same period when the state doctor opined he could not perform all the physical functions of his position.

Finally, the Court held that the State was not under a clear legal duty to remit back pay and vacation-leave credit to Baroni because R.C. 124.32 and Ohio Adm. Code 123:1-30-04 did not require such relief. Since Baroni failed to demonstrate that the State had a clear legal duty to provide his requested relief, the Court denied his request for a writ of mandamus.

By: Merl H. Wayman

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