- Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
In what labor lawyer Sid Garcia calls the most vicious act he’s ever seen by an employer, the city of West Palm Beach is suing a former city police officer, claiming the Iraqi vet lied to convince a jury to award him $880,000 in a discrimination case.
The complex, multi-pronged litigation involves Matthew Ladd, who was fired by West Palm Beach in 2010 while he was still on probation. His termination came days after a psychiatrist hired by the city rejected police claims that Ladd, who served two years in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Norman Silversmith found that Ladd was fit to return to duty.
Silversmith’s opinion and other evidence presented during a 2013 trial persuaded a jury that the city had used PTSD as a ruse to fire Ladd and ordered it to pay him nearly $900,000 in damages.
However, city officials say in a lawsuit filed this month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court that Ladd lied to police brass and Silversmith about his condition. Medical records they obtained as part of a related federal lawsuit show Ladd was diagnosed with PTSD as early as 2007 and that he was taking experimental drugs to deal with it during the three months he worked as a city cop, city attorneys claim.
Garcia counters that city officials are misinterpreting Ladd’s medical records to trump up their claims that his client committed a fraud upon the court. Further, Garcia says in records in the federal lawsuit that the claim is “a vexatious, bad faith attempt to punish Mr. Ladd for the resounding victory he had against the (city)” in the 2013 state court trial.
Ladd wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD until September 2012, nearly two years after he was fired by the city, Garcia says. Subsequently, in May 2013, Ladd scored a zero for PTSD on questionnaires administered by the Veteran’s Administration, the attorney said. Ladd remained in the Army reserves until 2012.
Garcia also blasted city attorneys for putting most of Ladd’s medical records in federal court files, where the records can be accessed by the public. “I’ve never seen such vindictiveness on the part of an employer,” he said.
City spokesman Elliot Cohen on Monday declined to comment about the lawsuit, saying he didn’t want his comments to influence Tuesday’s municipal elections for mayor and city commission.
In a statement on Tuesday, he said: “This entire case centers around Mr. Ladd’s medical background, and it would be impossible to defend ourselves in court without referring to his medical records.”
The two sides have argued bitterly in court since the jury returned its verdict. City attorneys persuaded Palm Beach County Circuit Judge David Crow not to order the city to reinstate Ladd.
Instead, the judge said Ladd was entitled to pay he would have received had he not been fired. The amount — which could push Ladd’s award to more than $1 million — has not been determined while the city appeals the verdict.
In the meantime, Ladd sued the city in federal court, claiming that the city violated his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired him for having PTSD. A federal judge has rejected the city efforts to have the case thrown out.