MANHATTAN (CN) — Falsely accused of alcoholism during bitter custody disputes, two New York City police officers convinced a federal jury two years ago that they endured discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability.
As they defend a more than $151,000 judgment, New York’s highest court must now determine whether state human-rights law protects not only recovering alcoholics, but those believed to be untreated.
The case arose from two relationships between fellow NYPD officers that ended in 2010 in acrimonious separations.
Kathleen Maniken said her ex-husband, a retired detective, depicted her as a child abuser to gain leverage during contentious divorce proceedings. Jamie Nardini meanwhile said her former boyfriend, who had been a sergeant, slimed her two days after losing unsupervised visitation of their young daughter.
The men each reported the lower-ranking Maniken and Nardini to the NYPD’s Counseling and Services Unit, a treatment service for officers coping with substance abuse.
Maniken and Nardini contend that the NYPD took their partners’ uncorroborated claims at face value, forcing them into mandatory treatment programs that were used against them in their then-ongoing custody battles.
They filed suit in 2011, and a federal jury ultimately awarded $46,100 to Maniken and $105,000 to Nardini.
Since that 2015 verdict, New York City’s lawyers have based their appeal on the state of the law rather than the facts of the case.
New York City Human Rights Law protects workers from any “actual or perceived” disability.
In the case of alcoholism, this includes someone who is “recovering or has recovered” and “currently is free of such abuse.”
The Second Circuit noted Monday that this standard is narrower than state or federal law.
“The former arguably seeks to protect only recovering alcoholics, while the latter seeks to ensure that employees with disabilities do not receive less protection under city law than they receive under state and federal law,” U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier wrote for a three-judge panel.
Lohier and his colleagues sent the case to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, for resolution of which view of human-rights law should prevail.
“A New York court should determine in the first instance which of these judgments ought to prevail in the event they conflict,” the 15-page opinion states.
Lisa Joslin, an attorney for the women, has not returned a telephone call seeking comment. Joslin is an attorney with Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea in Albany.