Ten jurors, six women and four men, will decide whether Dr. Patricia Dillon was suspended and fired because she spoke up about abuses on inmates at the Suffolk jail or faced discipline for other reasons.
The jurors in her lawsuit against Suffolk and her superiors deliberated for about 90 minutes Tuesday, two weeks after the trial began in federal Judge Arthur Spatt's courtroom in Central Islip. Deliberations are expected to continue Wednesday.
Spatt, in laying out the parameters of the jurors' closed-door talks, told them they had a central question to answer in order to decide the case: Did Suffolk County and Dillon's supervisors, Dr. Humayun Chaudhry and Dr. Vincent Geraci, retaliate against her for expressing her First Amendment rights by speaking up about what she testified was substandard medical care for inmates in the Riverhead jail?
If jurors rule for Dillon, they would determine whether she is entitled to damages. If they think the county disciplined her for legitimate reasons, she loses.
What's not at issue is whether Dillon endured an adverse employment action. She was suspended without pay from her $140,000-a-year job in the Jail Medical Unit on Sept. 13, 2007, after less than two weeks there.
She had been transferred to the jail assignment by Chaudhry, who was then the county's commissioner of health services, despite her having served in the more prominent position of acting director of public health.
Days after she started on Sept. 4, 2007, Dillon testified, she began noticing oddities in the records including injuries that were not properly addressed by medical staff and prescriptions that were not distributed. She made copies of the records.
She let some of those issues be known to her superiors, Chaudhry and Geraci, and they demanded she return the copies, citing procedures that prohibit unauthorized copying and removing of files.
She refused and was suspended for 30 days.
Dillon filed a lawsuit claiming her First Amendment rights were violated and did not return to the jail, but was eventually reassigned to a Southampton health clinic in January 2008.
She was fired in February 2009 after a hearing officer in a county disciplinary hearing determined she disobeyed a direct order to return the copies.
The county's argument has been that Dillon was a difficult employee who refused to see patients despite being a veteran physician and was insubordinate in not returning the copies of private files. The officials testified that she would have been suspended regardless of whether she had brought claims about the inmates' care.