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Town highway construction supervisor loses job over workers' comp case

A state panel said in June that John Tiernan of the Town of North Hempstead knowingly misrepresented alleged work-related injuries and omitted "relevant facts" of his case, which has been referred to the Nassau DA's office.

John Tiernan resigned and then retired, effective July

John Tiernan resigned and then retired, effective July 16. He had worked for the Town of North Hempstead since 1990. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

North Hempstead Town’s former highway construction supervisor was found by a New York State Workers' Compensation Board panel to have misrepresented work-related injuries to obtain benefits, prompting town officials to request his resignation and refer the case to the Nassau County district attorney's office. 

John Tiernan was asked to resign following the panel's June 29 decision that he violated state workers' compensation laws, said a town source with knowledge of the case, which had been pending since May 2016. The source added that the town reports "any potential impropriety" to the district attorney and that "the case is definitely worth an investigation."

Town officials declined to comment on disciplinary actions taken against Tiernan. North Hempstead spokeswoman Carole Trottere said he "resigned as part of a settlement resolved through a release of all claims approved by the board." 

The town referred the case to the district attorney's office on Aug. 23, a spokesman in that office said, declining to comment further.    

Tiernan had worked for the town since 1990. He had been highway construction supervisor for the past decade and was responsible for planning, assigning and supervising staff doing heavy construction and repair work, Trottere said. 

His resignation was effective July 16, weeks after the Workers’ Compensation Board Panel decision. As of that date, Tiernan's salary — his base pay of $94,076, plus overtime — totaled $110,305, according to Trottere. 

The panel's decision, obtained by Newsday, is written and signed by three members of the Workers’ Compensation Board and states that Tiernan, 57, of Farmingville, “knowingly made material misrepresentations” of alleged work-related injuries to obtain compensation benefits and omitted “relevant facts,” namely, a previous injury that affected the same body parts that he claimed he injured on the job.

Tiernan could not be reached for comment. 

Tiernan first filed a compensation claim with the New York State Workers' Compensation Board in May 2016, according to the panel decision. He initially alleged that he had sustained “repetitive stress/use injuries” to both of his shoulders, knees and his lumbar spine while working as a town highway construction supervisor. On the claim form, Tiernan left blank a question that asks whether the employee remembers “having another injury to the same body part or a similar illness,” the decision states.

At an August 2016 Workers’ Compensation Board hearing, Tiernan “conceded” that he had a car accident in 2003, injuring his back and requiring spinal fusion surgery, according to a transcript of hearings included in the decision. He “specifically stated he did not have any other injuries or accidents involving either of his shoulders” and he withdrew the claim for his back, the decision states.

In late August, the town's orthopedic consultant examined Tiernan and found that "there was a causal relationship" between a January 2016 accident and injuries to Tiernan's right shoulder and both knees, according to the decision.

At an October 2016 hearing, the Workers’ Compensation law judge established a claim for occupational diseases involving both shoulders and both knees.

Two days after that hearing, previous medical records related to Tiernan's 2003 car accident were filed with the board, which indicated that Tiernan sustained injuries to multiple areas, including his right shoulder, lower back and right leg.

In May 2017, the three-member panel rescinded the law judge's October 2016 decision, a move that allowed the town to present witness testimony. 

Tiernan had previously testified to performing manual labor — cutting tree limbs, completing roofing work — for about 40 percent of his day. At a July 2017 board hearing, the town’s deputy commissioner of human resources testified that GPS tracking of Tiernan’s vehicle showed that he was not performing manual labor to the extent he represented.

In September 2017, the Workers’ Compensation law judge again established the claim for occupational diseases involving both of Tiernan’s shoulders and knees, and found no awards “were due at this time.” The judge did not bar him from receiving future benefits.

Within 30 days, the town requested administrative review of the decision and the three-member panel was again convened. The panel wrote in its June 29 decision that Tiernan’s withdrawal of his back injury “called into question” the credibility of his entire claim and emphasized that Tiernan made “inconsistent statements” about his shoulder injuries.

Tiernan’s omissions were “egregious” and the Workers’ Compensation law judge’s September 2017 decision establishing a claim was reversed, the panel wrote in its decision, concluding Tiernan “should remain permanently disqualified from being eligible to receive indemnity benefits for his repetitive stress/use injuries.”

Tiernan is a member of the New York State and local retirement system for public employees and has 27 years of service credit, said Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Lopez said Tiernan is a Tier 4 member, which means that full service retirement benefits can only be recouped upon retirement at age 62. 

“With less than 30 years of service credit, they may retire as early as age 55, but they will receive a reduced benefit,” Lopez added.

Tiernan retired effective Aug. 28 and the comptroller's office has not yet completed the retirement calculation for him, Lopez said. According to a pension projection calculator available on the comptroller's website, Tiernan's annual pension — based on his final average salary (or FAS) of $100,050 — would be $45,622.  

At its July 17 meeting, the North Hempstead Town Board voted 7-0  to approve a settlement payout of $9,877 after taxes to Tiernan for unused vacation and sick time, according to an Aug. 3 pay statement obtained by Newsday.

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