A 28-year veteran of the Ridgefield Police Department was let go last week, after a 12-year period in which she had been out of work or on “light duty” 52% of the time with three injuries and a personal illness.
Sgt. Ruth McAllister was given a “non-disciplinary separation of employment” from the Police Department by a unanimous vote of the Police Commission last Thursday, following a closed-door executive session that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
A grievance objecting to the decision was filed on Sgt. McAllister’s behalf, according to Attorney Eric Brown, who represented her before the Police Commission last Thursday.
“The union will exercise all rights available. We believe we will ultimately be successful in returning Sgt. McAllister back to work,” Attorney Brown said Monday in an e-mailed response to The Ridgefield Press.
The action by the Police Commission will allow Sgt. McAllister, who has been on inactive status, to be replaced by a new hire.
The rationale for the dismissal is explained in July 9 letter from Police Chief John Roche to Chairman George Kain and the Board of Police Commissioners.
Chief Roche recommended Sgt. McAllister “non-disciplinary separation” of employment “based on her absenteeism and failure to maintain regular attendance in performing the full duties of a police officer.”
The letter was accompanied by an “attendance document” prepared by town Human Resources Director Laurie Scholl. It detailed Sgt. McAllister’s record of missing work with injury or sickness in the 12 years from August 2001 through May 2013.
Sgt. McAllister was out of work 31% of the time and on “light duty” 21% of the time, missing more than 74 months or six years of full duty patrol work, according to Ms. Scholl.
“During this period, Sgt. McAllister was either out of work or on light for the equivalent of 6.22 years: 52% of the time,” Chief Roche’s letter said.
Ms. Scholl’s document showed that an injury led to Sgt. McAllister to miss more than nine months of work from Aug. 1, 2001 to May 6, 2002.
After working a couple of days of light duty, she missed another month and a half from May 9 to June 27, 2002. This was followed by a year and two months of light from June 28, 2002, to Aug. 26, 2003.
A year later, Ms. Scholl’s records say, a “personal illness” kept Sgt. McAllister out of work from June 25, 2004 to July 8, 2004, followed by light duty from July 9 to July 23, 2004.
After two years of work, she was injured again and missed three months from July 23, 2006, to Oct. 22, 2006, Ms. Scholl said, followed by six months and three weeks of light duty from Oct. 23, 2006, to May 18, 2007.
Then she began another year-long period out of work, from May 19, 2007, to May 30, 2008.
Sgt. McAllister completed some two and a half years of full-duty service, then had another injury on Dec. 9, 2010, missing more than 17 months out of work and doing more than eight months on light duty between Jan. 4, 2011, and May 28, 2013.
Chief Roche’s letter to the Police Commission describes a June 27, 2013, meeting with Sgt. McAllister, Chief Roche, Ms. Scholl, Police Major Stephen Brown, and Officer Christopher Daly, president of the police union local.
Sgt. McAllister reviewed the records of her periods of absence and light duty in the last 12 years and “acknowledged the records,” Chief Roche said, although she said she was “unsure of the record of ‘personal illness’ of June 24 2004…”
“Sgt. McAllister did state that these events are workers’ compensation injuries and not injuries which were her fault.” the chief told the commission.
She also made it clear she wanted to retain her job.
“Sgt. McAllister stated she wanted to come back to work and complete 30 years of service with the police department and receive her 75% pension,” Chief Roche wrote.
She offered to consult her doctor to “accelerate her recovery so she would be able to return prior to the two-year timeline” outlined in the union contract, the chief’s letter said.
“Sgt. McAllister did deviate slightly from the attendance topic of the meeting by speaking to rumors, malicious gossip and innuendoes which she believed she was the subject of by officers of the department,” Chief Roche wrote. “I assured the sergeant that I have a strong respect for the rank of sergeant and decisions which I consider are based on facts and not rumors or innuendoes…
“I returned our conversation back to the topic at hand — the sergeant’s attendance,” Chief Roche wrote. “Sergeant McAllister reiterated her desire to return to work and described herself as an officer who is really good at dispatching and okay on patrol. Sgt. McAllister stated she wants to return to work and not leave her employ in this fashion, but as a retired officer/sergeant.”
She told the chief she was being “evaluated by her doctor” in regard to “her current illness/injury,” he said.
“I asked Sgt. McAllister if she could guarantee if she returned to full duty, what evidence or facts she could present that her return to full duty will not follow her pattern of absence and light duty status; continuing this cycle. Sgt. McAllister said she could not guarantee that she would not be re-injured.
“In closing, Sgt. McAllister asked me to please look at her overall record with the department and re-enforced her desire to return to active, full-time duty.”
In his concluding recommendation to the Police Commission, Chief Roche wrote:
“As Chief of Police, I have given careful and deliberate consideration to the sergeant’s response, and facts regarding Sgt. Ruth McAllister’s attendance history and history of inability to perform the full duties of a police officer.
“Sgt. McAllister presented herself in an earnest demeanor during our meeting on June 27, 2013. The sergeant stressed her desire to return to active full duty and retire after attaining 30 years of service. Sgt. McAllister requested that any decision be based on her 28 years of service as a police officer.”
He referred to Ms. Scholl’s documentation of Sgt. McAllister’s “extended absence history” over the last 12 years.
“During this period, Sgt. McAllister was either out of work or on light duty for the equivalent of 6.22 years: 52% of the time,” Chief Roche said. “For 21% of this time she as on light duty, and for 31% of this time she was out of work.
“Sgt. McAllister is currently on ‘inactive status’ as a result of her extended absence and as dictated by the Town of Ridgefield the Police Union Contract.”
Chief Roche noted that the sergeant is “currently being treated” for a condition and as of her June 27 meeting with him “was awaiting further evaluation and treatment.”
He added, “When asked, Sgt. McAllister could not guarantee if she returned to full duty that her pattern of absence and light duty would not continue or that she would not be re-injured.
“Based on these facts regarding Sgt. McAllister’s employment history, I recommend the Board of Police Commissioners affirm a ‘non-disciplinary separation’ of employment of Sgt. McAllister from the Ridgefield Police Department.”
The Press could not reach Sgt. McAllister by phone, and she did not respond to a request for comment through her attorney.