Four year old compensation case up for review, again

A Yukon government employee of 14 years filed for worker’s compensation benefits two days after being suspended from her job in 2002.

A Yukon government employee of 14 years filed for worker’s compensation benefits two days after being suspended from her job in 2002.

Charolette O’Donnell claimed her suspension, and subsequent firing, left her with difficulty eating, sleeping and concentrating.

The claim was backed by a handful of medical professionals, according to court documents.

Three years later, the workers’ compensation appeal tribunal decided to stop her compensation.

Now, after more than four years and myriad appeal processes, a recent judgment from Yukon’s Supreme Court will see the case thrown back to the tribunal for reconsideration.

The story began in 2002, when O’Donnell worked a term position away from her usual post.

And while she was away, inconsistencies were found in her files, Yukon Justice Leigh Gower wrote in his 44-page judgment.

So when she returned to work on August 5, 2002, and met with her employer she was suspended, pending further investigation.

Two days later, O’Donnell filed a report with the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board claiming she was injured as a result of the events of August 5.

In the report she claimed her “mental and physical (entire body)” had been injured and referred to a doctor’s report, which described the suspension as: “very disruptive.”

O’Donnell complained of difficulty sleeping, low energy, loss of appetite and poor concentration, according to the report.

The doctor diagnosed O’Donnell with an “adjustment disorder” and indicated “workplace stress” was a factor that may complicate her recovery.

Almost a week later, on August 13, 2002, O’Donnell was officially fired from her government job.

O’Donnell’s claim for compensation was accepted by a workers’ compensation adjudicator in October 2002.

Her employer, the Yukon government, appealed that decision to a workers’ compensation hearing officer, who confirmed the decision nearly a year later, in August 2003.

So, the employer appealed the decision again — this time to the workers’ compensation board’s appeal tribunal.

But that hearing was delayed “most unfortunately,” for two years due to a lengthy dispute over the scope of disclosure in O’Donnell’s claim file, Gower wrote in his decision.

Meanwhile, O’Donnell filed numerous reports from a doctor, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, who “continued to opine that she was unfit to return to work.”

In late 2004, the government asked for an independent medical examination of O’Donnell.

After a raft of delays, psychiatrist Paul Darlington was asked to examine O’Donnell in April 2005.

Darlington was asked to answer four questions:

Is O’Donnell incapacitated from a medical condition caused because she was fired?

If so, is her condition called “adjustment disorder”?

What is the anticipated period for recovery, and what might hinder her recovery?

And: “Is this worker capable of performing the duties of her previous occupation or any occupation?”

In Darlington’s opinion, O’Donnell “suffered from a ‘pre-existing generalized anxiety disorder’” and the “termination of the worker’s employment ‘significantly … contributed to the previous adjustment disorder’” leaving her “relatively incapacitated as a result of the major depressive episode.”

Finally, in late 2005, the appeal tribunal heard the case, decided O’Donnell did not have a “compensable injury,” and terminated her workers’ compensation benefits.

In Gower’s recent decision, dated January 19, 2007, he quashed the appeal tribunal’s decision.

“I find that the tribunal’s reasons, read as a whole, are not tenable as support for its decision,” Gower wrote.

Gower found: “the appeal tribunal failed to give proper consideration to Dr. Darlington’s opinion that the worker was incapacitated by a psychological condition arising from her employment suspension and subsequent termination.”

O’Donnell would have received the workers’ compensation benefits from 2002 when her original claim was approved, until 2005 when the appeal tribunal decided to terminate the benefits.

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