Judge: No Coverage for N.J. Manic Depressive with a Credibility Problem

June 18, 2009

A New Jersey woman who claimed her bipolar disorder was brought on by a stressful relationship with her boss is not eligible to collect workers’ comp benefits, a compensation judge has ruled.

The case was brought by Tracey Fleidner against pharmaceutical maker Wyeth Labs, which now owns Solgar, the company at which Fleidner worked in the compliance department from 2001 to 2004. Fleidner suffers from a permanent psychiatric disability – in this case, bipolar disorder – which she attributes to stress caused by a tense working relationship with her boss, Leora Baedar, who supervised her in 2003 and part of 2004.

In court documents, Fleidner alleged that Baedar failed to attend meetings, review work in a timely manner and generally contributed to delays in office workflow – which thereby increased Fleidner’s stress level. The poor working environment came to a head on one day in Aug. 2003 when Baedar admonished Fleidner for having an “inappropriate” conversation on the phone; later that day, Fleidner was warned by the human resources department for wearing clothing that was too revealing.

Not long after that, Fleidner was placed on a 60-day performance review. It was not until the end of that work-related probationary period that Fleidner says she came to realize she might have a mental health problem. This coincided, according to court documents, with several personal problems for Fleidner, including the collapse of her engagement to an abusive fiancée.

During testimony, Fleidner said that, in hindsight, she first noticed symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder in the beginning of 2003, and that those symptoms worsened as she continued working for Baedar.

It was that detail which led to the denial of workers’ compensation for her.

Although mental disabilities are compensable in New Jersey when they arise out of job-related objective stress and anxiety, ultimately the judge in the case denied benefits to Fleidner.

The court ruled that because her symptoms first began to appear before she began working for Baedar, they could not be attributed to stress caused by the tense relationship with her boss. However, the court also found that much of Fleidner’s testimony was not credible, ruling that many of the supposed sources of on-the-job stress were not believable, when balanced against documents and testimony by Solgar employees.

“In the (c)ourt’s opinion, it is incongruous to attribute a psychiatric disability to occupational stress, yet admit that you were depressed at the start of the alleged exposure period,” wrote Judge Jill M. Fader in her opinion on the case.

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