On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Civil Service Commission, No. 2009-1499.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Messano.
The City of Passaic (Passaic) appeals from the final decision of the Civil Service Commission (the Commission) that approved respondent Miriam Gonzalez's "participation in [Passaic's] donated leave program [(DLP)] from September 23, 2008 until November 24, 2008." At all relevant times, Gonzalez was employed as a clerk in Passaic's Human Services Division. On September 14, 2008, she was found unconscious in a car and was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital through its emergency room. She remained hospitalized through September 16, and thereafter did not return to work.
In a letter dated September 29, her physician, Paul C. Krisa, M.D., diagnosed Gonzalez with "syncope (fainting) and hypokelenia (low potassium) . . . ." Krisa indicated that "[t]he duration of her condition and its recovery started on September 14th and will go thru [sic] October 12th . . . ." He further opined that Gonzalez's "condition although currently under control, was [a] life-threatening illness at the time."
Gonzalez utilized her available sick time through September 22, and then applied for donated sick leave through Passaic's DLP. Passaic's personnel assistant, Maria T. Goregoitia, responded on September 30 denying Gonzalez's request. She advised that in order "[t]o qualify for donated leave, a catastrophic or life[-]threatening illness must exist . . . ." Citing Krisa's "certification," Goregoitia advised that Gonzalez's "life[-]threatening condition" existed only from September 14 to September 16. She included in her response, an application for unpaid family medical leave for Gonzalez to complete.
Gonzalez supplied another note from Krisa dated October 2 stating that she "remain[ed] under [his] care and . . . require[d] close monitoring until she returns to work on October 12. What was a life[-]threatening condition could recur if not properly observed." Gonzalez did not return to work on October 12; however, on October 17, Krisa sent another note indicating that she should be "excuse[d] . . . from work for [an] additional [two] weeks."
Gonzalez applied for an unpaid family medical leave on October 22, effective September 23 through November 3. Passaic approved that leave. On October 29, Krisa supplied another note medically clearing Gonzalez to return to work on November 10; on November 7, another note indicated Gonzalez remained under Krisa's care, and that she could not return to work until November 17. She ultimately returned to work on November 24.
Gonzalez appealed Passaic's denial of her request for donated leave to the Commission. She contended that she was entitled to donated sick leave pursuant to Passaic's DLP; Passaic argued that Gonzalez's medical condition was only life-threatening from September 14 to 16, and therefore she failed to satisfy a precondition for eligibility.
After reviewing the contentions, the Commission concluded:
[A] review of the documentation in this case clearly demonstrates that [Gonzalez]'s illness qualifies as a catastrophic health condition as defined as a life[-]threatening condition or combination of conditions under N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.22(b)1. Specifically, her medical documentation states that she was initially diagnosed with a serious, life [-]threatening illness that required close monitoring by her physician from the onset on September 14 . . . until November 24 . . . when she was cleared to return to work. . . . [A] review of the documentation submitted reveals that the life [-]threatening condition could return if not closely monitored by her physician. . . . [Passaic's] assertion that . . . Gonzalez's condition was only life threatening for the days that she was hospitalized is misplaced.
The fact that the illness was serious enough that it could return if not properly monitored, placing . . . Gonzalez at significant risk of further hospitalization or complications, is indicative of a catastrophic health condition.
The Commission granted Gonzalez's appeal and ordered her participation in Passaic's DLP. The Commission further ordered that any donated leave time Gonzalez might receive must "be credited towards her ...