NYC CO fired after being injured at work settles suit with DOC

The suit stemmed from the CO's treatment for damage to his right knee


By Chelsia Rose Marcius
New York Daily News

NEW YORK CITY - A bum knee nearly ended a rookie correction officer’s career.

Correction Officer Michael Dispigno is back on the job after winning a wrongful termination suit against the Department of Correction that stemmed from his treatment for damage to his right knee, union officials told the Daily News.

Dispigno, 27, tore his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus while going through an agility course at the DOC academy in Middle Village, Queens in February 2016 — hearing a sickening pop, but treating the pain with ice packs and reporting to work the next day.

But when the pain persisted, the Brooklyn officer went to a doctor, who told him he needed surgery. The DOC’s Health Management Division approved his time off for the procedure.

Dispigno had the operation, but opted out of full ACL reconstruction that would’ve required a much longer post-surgical rehabilitation — and a lot of missed work time.

When he continued to suffer from debilitating pain while stationed at the West Facility on Rikers Island, the department’s HMD approved sick leave again in August 2018 so he could have a second surgery.

Later that month, a DOC captain told him he'd been axed.

“They showed up at my door and took my job away from me,” he said, noting that the captain asked him to hand over his shield and any other departmental property. “(I said), ‘I’m going to contact my union before I sign any papers, and I’m not going to hand over any items.’ It didn’t seem right.”

Dispigno dialed the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which referred him to union lawyers. Attorney Mercedes Maldonado filed a lawsuit alleging the DOC wrongfully fired Dispigno because of disability-related absences.

Waiting to see how it would all shake out, Dispigno said, was nothing short of agonizing.

“Practically the rest of my life was relying on the outcome of this,” he said, noting he had to postpone wedding plans to marry his high school sweetheart until he knew whether he’d get his job back.

The suit was settled in May, with promise of full payback of $45,003.93 – the amount of Dispigno lost during the 10 months he wasn’t allowed to go back to work. The settlement also calls for DOC to credit his vacation days, holiday leave and retain his original date of hire for purposes of seniority, contract benefits and pension.

Dispigno was reinstated July 8.

Maldonado said she has handled more than a dozen such cases against the DOC in the last six years.

“The department has a habit — particularly when (an employee is) on probation — of not giving people the time that they need to recover from these injuries,” she said. “Instead they’re punishing them for getting injured, and they’re applying attendance policies in a way that’s just not consistent with their obligations under the city Human Rights Law... Even when he had to have the second surgery, it’s clear that the attitude is, ‘Not this again.’"

The city’s law department, which represented the DOC, did not return a request for comment.

“I was overjoyed...I couldn’t stop thanking her," Dispigno said of Maldonado. “It felt like my life had been restored. [Now] I’m ready for 20 years in the department.”

©2019 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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