Trooper’s Depression Results From Failure To Do Job, Not Disciplinary Investigation

James Thomas began working as a trooper for the Maryland State Police (MSP) in 1971. After he suffered a series of panic attacks while on the road from 1978 to 1980, he was transferred to MSP’s Automotive Safety Enforcement Division, after which the panic attacks ceased.

In 2000, MSP adopted new procedures for the auditing of vehicle inspection stations. Though Thomas was aware of the new procedures, he failed to comply with them. MSP initiated disciplinary proceedings against Thomas.

Shortly afterwards, Thomas began to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and agitation. Thomas eventually was diagnosed as suffering from a major depressive disorder. Thomas stopped working and went on sick leave at the end of November 2001, and never returned to active duty.

The Department’s disciplinary investigation resulted in a 60-day suspension and a one-year demotion from the position of Trooper First Class to Trooper. Thomas filed an application for on-duty disability retirement benefits. When his application was denied, he appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The Court upheld the denial of Thomas’ application for benefits. The Court found that there was “substantial evidence that Thomas’ depression arose out of not just the disciplinary proceedings against him, but also Thomas’ willfully negligent auditing of the inspection station he was assigned to review. Thomas’ willfully negligent conduct led directly to the disciplinary proceedings. The disciplinary proceedings, and the attendant emotional harm Thomas suffered, were the natural and proximate result of Thomas’ willful failure to perform his job properly and adequately. Therefore, Thomas’ depression and his incapacity for duty arose ultimately from his intentional disregard of the requirements of his duty, and he is not entitled to a special disability retirement allowance.”

Thomas v. State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland, 2009 WL 262433 (Md.App. 2009).

This article appears in the March 2009 issue