THE CHIEF-LEADER
Rule Correction Dept. Wrongly Fired CO Who Was Domestic-Abuse Victim
*Image courtesy Jenny Castillo

Firm NewsREADY TO GO BACK: Jenny Castillo was fired during her probationary period as a Correction Officer for excessive absences, but a judge has ordered her reinstatement, saying that she had told the Department of Correction that the absences were caused by her abusive domestic partner and that DOC violated a city law requiring employers to make accommodations for domestic-violence victims.

By MARK TOOR |

A state judge has ordered the rehiring of a probationary Correction Officer who was fired for absences rela­ting to abuse by her domestic partner.

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled July 17 that the Department of Correction acted in bad faith when it dismissed Jenny Castillo despite a law requiring employers to make allowances for domestic-violence victims.

‘Must Comply With Law’

Her attorney, Mercedes Mal­donado of Koehler & Isaacs, said in an interview last week that DOC has “yet to recognize that they still have to comply with the anti-discrimination laws that affect unique groups such as domestic-violence victims,” as opposed to the standard racial, ethnic and demographic categories.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani sign­ed an amendment to the Human Rights Law in 2001 expanding the classes protected from employment discrimination to include domestic-violence victims.

Ms. Castillo was hired as a CO in December 2010, according to Justice Ling-Cohan’s decision. The job carries a two-year probationary period. She was awarded commendations in May and August of 2011.

However, in February 2012 she was placed on chronic-absence status based on her use of 63 sick days to recover from hand surgery. She missed additional days until she was fired Aug. 22, 2012 because of absences resulting from domestic violence.

Ms. Castillo’s petition describes “incidents in which her abuser: wrapped his hands around petitioner’s throat and strangled her; punched a door, causing the door to break; deliberately hid her badge so she could not go to work; held a beer bottle in his hand while threatening, ‘so you want me to smash your face in with this bottle’; became enraged when petitioner had her friends visit their home, threatening, ‘I’ll get a gun and kill you and all your friends’…and threatened, almost daily, to ‘f---up’ petitioner.”

Ms. Castillo, who worked an overnight shift, was afraid to leave her three children and two grandchildren 

who lived with her alone with him at night, the decision said. The twin grandchildren have a sleeping disorder that requires monitoring them at night. She asked for a “hardship tour” in which she would transfer to either day or evening shifts, but DOC turned her down, the decision said.

She repeatedly told DOC doctors and psychologists that she was a victim of domestic violence, but DOC’s answer was to find her unqualified to carry a firearm, which the decision said was apparently an automatic response to a domestic-violence report.

Although she notified the agency, DOC also marked her as absent without leave for a mandatory Family Court appearance in May 2012, the decision said.

Cited Right to Fire

The city argued that Ms. Castillo, “as a probationary Correction Officer, could be terminated at any time, with or without cause,” the decision said. City attorneys said that DOC had only “limited” knowledge of her domestic problems and that the termination was not “arbitrary and capricious,” the standard that justifies court intervention.

Justice Ling-Cohan found that DOC did not even follow its own directive ordering reasonable accommodations for domestic-violence victims. She said DOC records made clear that Ms. Castillo had informed medical personnel and supervisors repeatedly that she had a problem. She was erroneously marked absent without leave five times, the judge said.

The termination decision “was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and made in bad faith,” she wrote.

Ms. Castillo was ordered reinstated “forthwith,” and awarded back pay for the time she was jobless, which is about $84,000.

The Department of Law told the New York Law Journal that the city would accept Justice Ling-Cohan’s decision. But Ms. Maldonado told THE CHIEF-LEADER, “We have been told there has not been an official decision as yet.” The city has until the end of August to appeal, she said.

Ms. Castillo “is very anxious to get back to work,” Ms. Maldonado said. “She is looking forward to many years of excellent public service.”