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California Prison Psychiatrist Faces Harassment, Retaliation from State Officials

by Ed Lyon

Psychiatrist Anthony Coppola, employed in California’s prison system, was a warden’s dream employee. He often worked overtime and on his days off when his primary job at a prison in Tracy, California was short staffed. As a result of his hard work, he amassed a huge backlog of vacation time.

State employees are allowed to “bank” their leave, or vacation time, and cash it out when they retire. Banked leave can accumulate to six-figure amounts in some cases. Coppola, 53, chose to reduce his accumulated leave by scheduling several days off each week at the prison, then used that time to work at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County. His combined income for 2016 was $542,000 – $309,000 from his state job and $233,000 from the county.

Such double-dipping by having two jobs is not a prohibited practice. A San Francisco Bee investigation found nearly 900 other prison health care professionals had permission to work two or more jobs, including 89 who were employed by two state agencies.

“It was approved. He didn’t do it on his own,” said Coppola’s attorney, Brian Crone. “He went through his chief of mental health. The warden knew what he was doing.”

“There are just not that many people who want to work at a prison or want to work in a jail,” Crone added. “So if you’re one who can do it or wants to do it, you might as well take advantage of what you can do.”

Coppola’s troubles began in 2016 when he refused to take part in a plot by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to terminate mental health supervisor Reba White. Prison officials believed White, 68, to be “old and frail.” Coppola refused to act as her temporary replacement. It was at that time that state officials began questioning his dual income and attempted to curtail his work at the county jail.

By October 2016, Coppola was being investigated and harassed on his days off from his prison job, and in April 2017 CDCR authorities rescinded almost 1,100 hours of his accrued personal leave time.

Coppola and Reba White then filed lawsuits against prison officials. At primary issue in Coppola’s complaint is why his dual work practices were questioned only after he refused to participate in the CDCR’s age discrimination scheme to terminate White. A state attorney in the case said Coppola’s accrued leave was taken because it had been incorrectly awarded based on his overtime hours.

Coppola, on a leave of absence from his state job, now receives retirements benefits and continues to work for Alameda County. 

Source: San Francisco Bee


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