A Bethlehem police officer who was dismissed following a DUI charge, then ordered to be reinstated, is now suing the city after its expert ruled he is an alcoholic and is unfit to return to the police department.
Richard Hoffman is neither an alcoholic, nor a recovering alcoholic, and has never received a medical diagnosis as such, according to his lawsuit filed in Northampton County Court last month.
Bethlehem, however, is using a forensic psychologist’s opinion to brand him as an alcoholic who cannot perform his duties as a police officer, the suit says.
Hoffman “was, in essence, terminated twice without just cause,” according to the lawsuit.
Since the city regards Hoffman as a recovering alcoholic, which he denies, the city should consider him as a person with a disability covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit says.
Under the statute, Hoffman should have been allowed to complete the recommended treatment before being determined unfit to return to the police department, the lawsuit says.
Hoffman’s attorney, Donald Russo, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Attorney Susan McDonough is representing Bethlehem in the matter, and filed a notice Wednesday to have the suit moved to federal court. McDonough declined to comment about the suit.
Hoffman was charged with drunken driving after crashing into a parked vehicle and damaging two others in August 2013 in the city. His blood-alcohol content was 0.16, according to authorities.
Hoffman was accepted into a first-time offender’s program and the DUI was erased from his criminal record.
Bethlehem City Council voted unanimously in March 2014 to fire Hoffman, but an arbitrator ruled last year that the city only had cause to discipline him, not fire him.
According to Hoffman’s suit, the arbitrator ruled the city could only discipline him with a 25-day suspension. Hoffman was to be reinstated, but the city had the right to require Hoffman to submit, and successfully complete, a fitness-for-duty evaluation.
Hoffman claims the city never required other officers with DUI charges, who were also suspended 25 days, to receive the same evaluation.
The arbitrators ruling “reflected unlawful bias in the form of an utterly unsubstantiated belief that (Hoffman) was suffering from alcoholism,” the suit says.
As part of Hoffman’s evaluation, Dr. Frank Dattilio submitted a report last May that found Hoffman is an alcoholic who could possibly relapse, and is unfit to return to as a patrolman, according to court papers.
Dattilio made recommendations for Hoffman before he be allowed to return as a full-time police officer:
- Six months sobriety before being allowed to return to light duty.
- An additional six months of sobriety before being allowed to return to his patrol unit, with the recommendation of random urine tests.
- Joining an on-going recovery program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Dattilio’s continued evaluation of Hoffman’s complying with the recommendations.