THE CHIEF – HA Caretaker Cleared of Assault Charges Presses for Denied Benefits

By David Sims

February 26, 2010 – A Housing Authority Caretaker who was assaulted by residents but then had internal disciplinary charges filed against her, which she claimed came in retaliation for her benefits application, was exonerated Feb. 3.

“I came to work on Feb. 26, 2009, and I was jumped on the job by some tenants that live here,” Teresa Roberts said in a phone interview. “The HA denied my claim and then pressed charges against me, trying to take my job.”

Kept Adding Charges
Ms. Roberts was charged by the HA with six separate violations: two for allegedly assaulting and verbally harassing a resident, and four for allegedly making threats to the same resident on the phone, all during the summer of 2009. When two of the phone charges were dismissed by the arbitrator for being too vague, the HA filed two more phone-threat charges with more specific details.

When witnesses testified against her in the arbitration hearing, the case fell apart, said Ms. Roberts’ attorney Liam Castro, of Koehler and Isaacs. “It turned out that the people who she was alleged to have assaulted had criminal charges against them for having attacked her son, and pending charges for having assaulted her,” he said.

“All of her alleged misconduct allegedly occurred after these two incidents, where she was attacked and her son was attacked,” he continued. “I said it sounded like the charging parties were looking for leverage against her… HA chose to pursue it; they said they had a tape of Ms. Roberts making threats.”

HA officials tried to introduce the audio tape of an alleged threat made by Ms. Roberts in the arbitration hearing, but a witness testified that the alleged victim had falsified the recording to make it sound like a threat.

‘She Feared for Her Life’
“I listened to the tape,” said Mr. Castro. “It seemed to be a venting situation. [Ms. Roberts] said, ‘I can’t rest until these people are gone, until they’re in the grave.’ What she seemed to be saying was, ‘I fear for my life.’”

A witness then testified that the alleged victim had filed the charges against Ms. Roberts in an effort to get her to drop criminal charges relating to the assault in February. The witness also said that the alleged victim had admitted to her that she had failed to instigate a fight with Ms. Roberts that she hoped would buttress her charges.

Mr. Castro moved for all of the charges to be dismissed, but before the arbitrator ruled, the HA withdrew them outright. “To me, the charges that were brought by these two residents were not thoroughly investigated, not by a longshot,” he said.

Ms. Roberts said she was pleased by the verdict but was still fighting for the benefits she was owed by the HA under the union assault clause provision, which pays for the difference between her salary and Worker’s Compensation benefits for a maximum of 18 months.

Claims Union Hasn’t Helped
“I’ve been out of work almost a year. I had neck injuries, an injury to my back, my right knee was injured, my right arm was hurt,” she said. She also claims that her union, Teamsters Local 237, has failed to help her in her fight with the HA.

“On numerous occasions I have requested Local 237 assistance with this move by HA to violate my contractual rights, to no avail,” she said in a letter to the HA director at the union.

“She needs Local 237’s help to obtain the benefits she deserves for being assaulted while at work,” Mr. Castro added. “[It] has not given her the representation she deserves.”