This is a story about every whistleblower’s worst nightmare: the forced fitness for duty exam, a nuclear option used by those in power in order to rid themselves of truth tellers who threaten to expose corruption. It is used more times than most people know, with whistleblowers preferring to quit rather than submit to the humiliation of a mind probe. Other whistleblowers take the exams, and find the process so dehumanizing and belittling that they never mention it, preferring to take it to the grave.
In 1978, a report by the subcommittee of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, now the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, stated: “The fact that fitness for duty examinations are used as the result of personality conflicts, and for retaliation, means that the morale of federal employees is being undermined, the reputation of the Government damaged, and the purposes of the Congress frustrated.” The subcommittee had the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) change their regulations and put limits on the federal agency’s ability to order fitness for duty examinations.
Agencies continue to be caught ordering employees to submit to psychiatric or fitness for duty examinations, however, even though the employee did not qualify for the exam under regulations outlined by OPM. In 2010, 6.1% of federal employees who were subjected or threatened with whistleblower retaliation said they experienced retaliation in the form of fitness for duty exams – which was up from 1.6% in 1992, according to this article. Missing from those numbers are whistleblowers who never advised the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) that they had suffered the indignities of a fitness for duty exam used as retaliation.
Attorney John Mahoney advised: “It really is the area that I see as being the most abused in terms of potential discrimination. It is an easy way for an employer to take an employee out of their job duties, especially if the employee is covered by security clearances, and put them on the sideline and force them to fight their way back in by proving that they’re medically fit. And if it does affect a security clearance, it can take a number of months, if not years, for an employee to prove that they are not a security risk due to their ‘perceived’ medical disability.”
This story is about a Constable in Ottawa, Canada who was forced into a fitness for duty exam because she reported sexual harassment, but the exam was faked and the psychologist was an imposter. This story cries out for justice, and by presenting it in two parts, Whistleblower Network News hopes to address an issue that is well-hidden in the shadows due to shame and stigma: the use of fitness for duty exams to retaliate against whistleblowers.
Kimberly Cadarette was born in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada to a father, Carl, who “had a heart of gold, laughed easily, and worked at a Chrysler factory.” He was very popular, and told Cadarette: “No matter what you go through, what people put you through in life you just gotta keep pursuing and look for the good.” Her mother and father divorced when Cadarette was five years old because of the physically abusive behavior of Cadarette’s mother. Her mother beat her so badly as a child that Cadarette spent time in a hospital, and now she does not have a relationship with her mother. After the divorce, Cadarette lived with her father, grandmother and aunt in Lasalle, Ontario. She attended St. John the Baptist, a Catholic school, and then Sacred Heart. Cadarette was a good student, and a “good kid” growing up, engaged in martial arts, weightlifting, volleyball, and soccer. She continued her Catholic education, attending St. Thomas of Villanova. From a very early age, Cadarette wanted to be a police officer and help troubled kids, since her childhood was so difficult. Cadarette recalled how important a police officer, David Dean, was to her in Grade 6, and what an impact he made, as she committed to living a life drug and alcohol free.
Cadarette attended Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario, where she took classes in Law and Security. Her education was cut short by the death of her father, who died of a heart attack. His passing forced her to move back to Lasalle to take care of her only sibling, a sister. Cadarette was nineteen years old, supporting a sister who was a “wild child” and eventually ran away to Detroit in the United States.
From 2004 to 2006, Cadarette took employment at a casino, working as a dealer and server while she also took college courses trying to get her degree. But then, the Ottawa Police Department (OPD) hired her. Beginning in January 2006, the hiring process was a whirlwind for Cadarette as she had an interview, psychological testing, and background investigation which she sailed right through. In July of 2006, Cadarette was offered a job as 4th Class Constable for the OPD, which she accepted. On August 14, 2006, Cadarette reported to the Ottawa Police Service for training with 35 other trainees. In September she and her class joined other police officers in training at Ottawa Police College. For three months Cadarette was on cloud nine, excited and living her dream. In November 2006, Cadarette received her badge with her aunt present at graduation.
There are three divisions in the Ottawa Police Department, Central, East, and West, and Cadarette was assigned the Central area, but she also worked the other two areas. For the first three months Cadarette had a training officer, and after that training period she did not require any further oversight.
At work Cadarette started noticing that her personal items were missing. Fellow officers started bullying and sexually harassing her. In 2007, she reported the sexual harassment and bullying to her chief, and the quick result was an order for Cadarette to be relieved of her gun, report for a fitness for duty exam, and attend weekly sessions with Dr. Ron Frey, a certified psychologist.
Cadarette met with Frey several times and a nine page psychological report was issued with Frey’s signature. What Cadarette did not know at the time, however, is that she was meeting with an imposter. Cadarette, who wanted so desperately to help people in her law enforcement career, was being tarred with a falsified report.
Cadarette had been set up to fail after blowing the whistle on sexual harassment and bullying by her fellow officers. She would not discover the truth for fourteen years, long after she left her job at the Ottawa Police Department.
“It broke me,” Cadarette stated. Dr. Ron Frey made this statement: “This actually takes it to another level because this is probably criminal. I would think…it also has an impact not just on this particular police officer, but on the profession of psychology.”
Part II of the Kimberly Cadarette story is available now, only on Whistleblower Network News.