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County To Rehire Woman Fired For Smoking Pot


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After losing a second round in court, County Executive Robert Bondi agreed last week to reinstate an employee of Putnam's Office for the Aging who failed a 2005 random drug test and then admitted she had been smoking pot for seven years.

Nevertheless, Bondi said Putnam would ask the state Court of Appeals for permission to appeal a May 22 state appellate division decision ordering the reinstatement of Christine Sequist, a Dutchess County woman who confessed her drug use while working for the office, including as a bus driver.

A hearing officer in May 2005 had recommended a 30-day suspension without pay for Sequist, who had sought treatment, but Bondi fired her instead.

Sequist sued Putnam to get her $37,713-a-year job back.

"Although I continue to remain steadfast in my opinion that Ms. Sequist be terminated for her conduct, and despite the fact that I have instructed counsel to bring a motion for leave to appeal the court's decision to the New York State Court of Appeals, I am forced to advise you to return Ms. Sequist to the position which she previously held with the Office for the Aging at the time of her termination," Bondi wrote last week to the office's executive director, William Huestis.

Bondi and Sequist did not respond to calls for comment. It was unclear whether Bondi also directed that Sequist receive the back pay and benefits awarded to her pending any possible action on the case by the state's highest court.

Sequist's attorney, Steven Crain of Middletown, N.Y., said he did not know whether his client would return to her job with the county.

"Speaking as a representative of the union, you don't terminate someone for a one-time mistake," said Crain, deputy counsel for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents about 378 Putnam employees. "She has now been rehabilitated. Even if she used marijuana, there were no indications that she ever used it while working or had any effects of marijuana use while working. If she used it, it was on her own time."

Last month, a four-judge state Supreme Court Appellate Division panel in Brooklyn unanimously concurred with state Supreme Court Justice Andrew O'Rourke's September 2005 decision ordering Sequist's reinstatement.

"Under the circumstances presented here, the penalty of termination of the petitioner's employment was so disproportionate to the offense committed as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," the appellate division panel wrote.

In his letter, Bondi describes his decision to fire Sequist as a "necessary and prudent step in safeguarding the well-being and security of the citizens of Putnam County."

Bondi takes the court to task for its ruling.

"The appellate division seems to have completely and utterly ignored my significant frontline responsibility for the safety and welfare of those who reside in the community," Bondi wrote.

Crain said it was unlikely that the Court of Appeals would hear the case.

"He (Bondi) went over and above the penalty recommended by the hearing officer and decided to terminate her," Crain said. "It was too harsh, and the courts agreed."

Sequist began work for Putnam as a helper in the adult day-care program in 1991. She was promoted to van driver in 1994 and to bus driver for the county agency in April 1998. At the time she was tested, Sequist was performing clerical duties in the office. She was never tested while she was working as a driver, according to court papers.

After learning she failed the test, according to court papers, Sequist went to her department head on her own. She admitted to being a longtime, occasional user of marijuana and said she had tried to stop on her own but couldn't. She was never under the influence at work, according to court papers, and had smoked marijuana the Saturday before she was tested for drugs.

After she failed the test, Sequist entered an intensive outpatient drug program and continued in after-care. All of the subsequent tests turned out negative, according to court documents.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Author: Susan Elan
Contact: selan@lohud.com
Copyright: 2007 The Journal News
Website: County set to rehire woman fired for smoking pot
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