Former Columbia police officer sues department, city after reinstatement rejected

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | 6:51 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A former Columbia police officer who was not reinstated after being placed on medical leave is suing the police chief, a former deputy chief and the city.

Chris Kelley, who worked for the Columbia Police Department for 15 years, was placed on a yearlong mental health leave, determined "unfit for duty" and ultimately discharged. The former lieutenant is suing over being denied his reinstatement, which his lawsuit alleges violates the Family Medical Leave Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Kelley filed the lawsuit on July 16 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, against the city of Columbia, Police Chief Ken Burton and former Deputy Chief Dianne Bernhard.

Kelley's attorneys, Morgan Roach and Michael Miller of McCauley & Roach LLC in Kansas City, were not available for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Kelley was hospitalized "in connection with issues of paranoia and unusual behavior" in October 2012. After three days, he went on sick leave under the Family Medical Leave Act in agreement with Columbia Police that his reinstatement would be based on a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Kelley completed mental health treatment in February 2013 and was determined medically capable of returning to his job by his treating physician, who certified his return to duty authorization form, according to the lawsuit.

But Bernhard, who was deputy chief at the time, denied the reinstatement, saying it wasn't "good enough." She said Kelley would have to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation conducted by a city medical adviser.

During the evaluation, Kelley released his confidential medical records to the city medical adviser, according to the lawsuit.

The evaluation resulted in the city's medical adviser declaring Kelley "unfit for duty" and suggesting that he remain on leave for a minimum of one year, according to the lawsuit. Kelley had been on leave for about five months.

In June 2013, Kelley requested and then demanded he be reinstated, according to the lawsuit. Burton rejected the demand and informed Kelley that, in October, his sick leave would be over and he would be officially terminated. Kelley was discharged on Oct. 30, 2013.

The lawsuit accuses Burton, Bernhard and the city of Columbia of violating the Family Medical Leave Act in denying Kelley's reinstatement.

In addition, Kelley and his attorneys are accusing the defendants of violating the Missouri Human Rights Act by determining that Kelley had a mental impairment that would interfere with his job performance. In the lawsuit, the defendants' actions are described as "outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference."

Kelley is seeking financial compensation and reinstatement.

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