The Police Department has forced a detective assigned to a unit that investigates terrorism to retire early because of a hearing impairment she suffered on the job 14 years ago, according to a complaint filed by the officer.
Detective Delores Facey, a 19-year veteran, said she wants to keep her job and is mystified that she has been forced to leave for an injury that never hindered her work.
On March 31, her supervisor ordered her to turn in her handgun and the federal credentials she used to work with the FBI in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, to which she had been assigned just five months earlier. She was then escorted out of the unit’s downtown office.
“I just started crying,” Facey said in a phone interview last week. “I was hurt. I was embarrassed.”
Boston police declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. The lawsuit, which alleges discrimination based on disability, was filed against the City of Boston and the municipal retirement board. City officials declined to comment, stating that they had not seen Facey’s complaint.
In 1999, Facey was at the department’s firing range practicing on a new type of firearm. Several times she did not wear protective gear, which damaged her hearing so much that by the end of the day she could not understand what her supervisor was saying, by her account and the court documents.
Hearing aids helped her hear at normal levels and she was able to stay in the field, working in demanding squads like the sexual assault unit. Soon after her injury, she was promoted to the rank of detective.
In 2011, she slipped in the shower at a department gym, severely injuring her back. She was out of work for 2½ years and at one point was advised by the department nurse to put in her retirement papers.
The pain was so severe, Facey said, that she decided to follow that advice, but after two back surgeries, her condition improved dramatically.
By March of last year, Facey, a mother of 9-year-old triplets whose husband is a lieutenant in the department, rescinded her retirement and returned to work.
“I do kickboxing. I do Zumba. I’ve got energy, I’m playing with my kids,” she said in the interview. “I was really, really in a good place. I was happy.”
Facey had no disciplinary record, according to her and the department.
But department officials filed an “involuntary accidental retirement petition” with the city’s retirement board, stating that Facey had to retire not because of her back, but because of her hearing.
In June, a panel of three doctors hired by the state examined her and unanimously agreed that her impairment qualified her as too disabled to perform her duties. Facey countered that she was not tested while wearing her hearing aids.
In October, the Boston Retirement Board held a hearing.
As Facey waited for the board’s decision, she sent a letter to Police Commissioner William Evans and Superintendent in Chief William Gross imploring them to rescind the petition, which was filed while Edward F. Davis was commissioner.
Davis said he could not recall Facey’s case but recalled other officers who relied on hearing aids.
“It’s not something that has created a major problem in the Police Department in the past,” Davis said. “I haven’t had any issues with it.”
On March 18, the board informed Facey that it had voted to force her retirement.
“The retirement boards are the ultimate finders of fact,” said Joseph Connarton, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, which is named in Facey’s complaint. “Given the fact that the medical panel that looked at her was unanimous, I assume the board acted on that.”
Her personal doctor at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Associates has written a letter on her behalf stating he has tested her regularly since she was injured in 1999.
Since then, he wrote, her “hearing has remained absolutely stable.”
Her lawyer, Harold Lichten said there is nothing forbidding Facey from wearing hearing aids on the job. With them, she probably hears better than other officers, who do not use them but have probably suffered some hearing loss after years of exposure to sirens and gunshots, he said.
“If they test most police officers on the street they wouldn’t meet the entry level standards anyway,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to deny her the job.”
And, he said, classifying her as disabled means that she stands to receive 72 percent of her salary tax-free. He questioned why the department would pay her to not work, when she wants to resume her job.
Lichten compared her situation to a 2001 case in which a police recruit, Richard Dahill, was turned down for employment by the department because of his hearing impairment.
Dahill had relied on hearing aids for both ears since he was 3 years old.
A federal jury ordered Boston police to pay Dahill, who was also represented by Lichten, more than $1 million in lost pay and damages.
Dahill was allowed to join the department and has risen to the rank of sergeant.