Friday, January 18, 2008

Warwas - Courier - State orders Warwas reinstatement, fine

Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, January 17, 2008

[Board] rules in favor of fired Plainfield health officer


A state personnel board ruled Wednesday that a former Plainfield health officer, fired on allegations that she worked for another city while on sick leave, should be disciplined and pay a fine equal to the time she was off the job — even though she should return to her post.

Jadwiga Warwas, who appealed her Sept. 11, 2006, firing for insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee, last month scored a legal victory when a state Office of Administrative Law judge dismissed the charges and ordered Plainfield to reinstate her with full back pay, benefits, pension rights and legal fees.

A health officer in Plainfield earns about $83,700, according to city administrators.

The judge's Dec. 12 decision was forwarded to the Merit System Board, which unanimously opted to modify the earlier ruling by deciding that some disciplinary action — though not removal — was warranted, according to officials.

The five-member panel decided that Warwas should receive an official letter of reprimand and pay a fine equal to the 109 hours she was off the job, said Henry Maurer, director of the state Division of Merit System Practices and Labor Relations.

A written decision explaining the board's stance will be prepared for final approval, likely at its Jan. 30 meeting, Maurer said. Either side in the case then could challenge the decision and seek review before the state Appellate Division.

City Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said Wednesday he could not comment on the decision because he had not seen it.

According to court papers, Warwas, a licensed physician, developed peptic ulcers and clinical depression because of her tumultuous time in the city — she started her tenure in October 2003 — and took sick leave from late July through early September 2006. On five occasions, Warwas was restricted to home because of her poor health.

While off from work, an anonymous tipster alerted city leaders that Warwas was working part time for Paterson. According to court papers, Paterson officials confirmed the claim, notifying their counterparts in Plainfield that Warwas worked from home as a quality assurance coordinator, logging a total of 109 hours as she collected and disseminated information about infectious diseases.

The sticking point in the case, according to court documents, appears to be Warwas' undisputed failure to submit a written request to continue her work for Paterson before beginning sick leave, despite a Plainfield code at the time of Warwas' hiring that prohibited outside employment without official approval.

Warwas has testified that she was not aware of the requirement and submitted a resume that disclosed her part-time position before taking the job in Plainfield.

Though the city argued that firing Warwas was justified because of her prior disciplinary record — including two suspensions for the confusion surrounding her alleged failure to designate an acting health officer while on vacation in summer 2006 — the administrative law judge ruled that "Warwas did not in any sense fail to comply with the Employee Handbook by not submitting a written application for permission to do what she already had disclosed in 2003."

Brandon Lausch can be reached at (908) 707-3175 or

Online story here. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.