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Former FPD officer sues city

FRANKLIN

A former Franklin police officer is suing the city in federal court over alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the complaint, which was filed April 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, former FPD officer Marissa L. Foster, who the complaint states has a history of episodic depression and related disorders, suffered a sudden mental breakdown while on duty the evening of Friday, July 19, 2019. She was found by another officer crying in her patrol car.

The suit then claims Foster’s immediate supervisor, Sgt. Frank Justus III, allowed her to take the rest of her shift off that night but denied Foster’s request to remain on medical leave through July 21. He allegedly told her if she did not appear for her shift as scheduled at 7 p.m. July 20, she must meet with then-interim Police Chief R.E. Porti at 9 a.m. July 22 and bring to that meeting her departmental badge and firearm.

“Officer Foster did not appear for her shift on Saturday, July 20, 2019,” the complaint states. “Instead, she drove about 45 minutes from her home to Patient First, an urgent care facility in Chesapeake.”

There, she was reportedly diagnosed with a dysthymic disorder, depression, hypothyroidism and other impairments, and was prescribed antidepressant medication. The U.S. National Institutes of Health website defines “dysthymic disorder” as “a smoldering mood disturbance characterized by a long duration (at least two years in adults) as well as transient periods of normal mood.” Patient First also reportedly gave Foster an “excused from work” note.

On July 22, Porti allegedly discharged Foster from the department despite the “excused” note, after she refused to resign.

“At the time Franklin discharged Officer Foster, Chief Porti and other agents of Franklin (including but not limited to City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt) clearly knew or should have known she needed medical leave for a serious health condition within the meaning of the FMLA … especially since they assessed her incapacity on the evening of July 19, 2019, and concluded she could not safely perform the essential functions of her job,” the complaint states. “Chief Porti and other Franklin agents had a statutory duty and obligation to inquire and confirm or ascertain whether Officer Foster’s inability to work on July 19-23, 2019, was the result of a serious health condition within the meaning of the FMLA.”

Asked for comments on the matter, Sgt. Scott Halverson, spokesman for the FPD, said the department would not be commenting on any pending litigation.

The suit seeks $60,000 in damages from lost wages and benefits, plus another $60,000 in liquidated damages, the repayment of all legal costs and any further monetary relief the court finds appropriate.