Lynch Prevails in APD Lawsuit

Jury's ruling will net detective $240,000 in back pay, pain and suffering


APD failed to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for Detective Amy Lynch. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Austin Police Detective Amy Lynch emerged victorious from her civil lawsuit against the city and the Austin Police Department last Friday in a jury trial held in Judge Tim Sulak's 353rd Civil District Court. The verdict, reached after three days of witness testimony and a full day of jury deliberations, will award Lynch $220,327 in back pay and $20,000 in pain and suffering.

Lynch, a Vermont native who joined APD after settling in Austin after college in 1997, was the subject of the Chronicle's Aug. 2012 feature "APD's Sleep Disorder." She was a highly regarded patrol officer-turned-detective in the department's esteemed Human Trafficking/Vice unit who in 2009 received a diagnosis that she was narcoleptic. Lynch's professional life went haywire shortly after. In Dec. 2010, she was transferred from her unit to Firearms, a less desirable (for her) part of the Organized Crime Division (OCD), then told that the department could no longer cater to her reasonable accommodation request to come to work at 10am. Instead, her chain of command decreed, she had to be there at 9am – then eventually 8am.

In March 2011, Lynch was booted from OCD after Sgt. Pat Connor, her sergeant for three months, slammed her in an evaluation, alleging her to be suddenly unable to handle simple detective tasks. Lynch went on Family & Medical Leave and was told during her hiatus that she wouldn't be allowed to return to Firearms. She would need to find a new division. First, she was told, Lynch needed to pass a fit-for-duty test. Lynch passed that test in Nov. 2011, in a meandering evaluation that spent little time considering the actual effects of narcolepsy. When APD received the results, Chief Art Acevedo ordered a second test with a new doctor, which Lynch passed as well.

Yet, Lynch was still not brought back to work. Instead, she was terminated Aug. 28, 2012 – four days after the Chronicle story came out – and told that the department could no longer retain her because it could not accommodate her disability request. Because of her narcolepsy, she had asked for permission to come to work between 9am and 10 and not be tasked with working evenings or nights, a request protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act. (The department said it specifically could not accommodate the second part of that request.)

In March 2012, Lynch filed a lawsuit against the city and APD alleging that the department failed to accommodate her ADA request; discriminated against her because of her narcolepsy diagnosis; and retaliated against her for, among the aforementioned courses of action, filing a 2011 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Lynch would file a second EEOC complaint against APD in Feb. 2013. The EEOC has ruled in her favor in both cases.) Lynch sought to recoup all back pay, front pay, and benefits; lost economic opportunity; compensatory damages for distress, inconvenience, anguish, and humiliation; as well as a few other conditions. Those figures, it would later get ironed out, would total in excess of $240,000, factoring in lost wages, benefits, sick leave, vacation time, pension, bonuses, all lost insurance coverage, and money from her retirement service fund, which she was forced to bleed nearly dry in order to pay for life expenses with no job.

Curiously, and without any explanation, Acevedo issued an unconditional offer of reinstatement to Det. Lynch on Jan. 21, 2014 – 17 months after her termination – assigning her to the Burglary unit in Property Crimes. Her start time would be 9am, in accordance with both of her accommodation requests. The detective has been working burglaries ever since.

Last week, after three days of testimony, a jury determined Lynch had in fact been terminated because of her EEOC filings and that department officials failed to provide a reasonable workplace accommodation that would not have caused an "undue hardship" on APD. Jurors also concluded that the department failed to "consult with Lynch in good faith."

Lynch's case provides the second instance in eight weeks in which the city has been told to fork over six figures in back pay and owed monies to a member of APD's rank-and-file, something Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano evidently does not want to talk about. (He has declined to comment on both cases.) In early August, retired Lieutenant Johnny McMiller was awarded $104,295 after third-party arbitrator Chuck Miller determined Acevedo violated the union's meet-and-confer agreement with the city when he issued a (since rectified) Retirement Under Investigation to the officer, thereby withholding McMiller's accrued sick pay. See "Six Figures of Sick Pay," Sept. 9, for more on that story.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Amy Lynch, Austin Police Department, narcolepsy, Tim Sulak, Organized Crime Division, Art Acevedo, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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