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December 28, 1990


Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

Rogers, Chief Judge, Schwelb and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

Petitioner William A. Spartin appeals a decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DOES or agency) denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits. In proceedings before the Hearing Examiner petitioner claimed that increased duties in his job as an international human resources consultant subjected him to an excessive amount of stress, ultimately causing him to become disabled with depression and other psychological illnesses. The Hearing Examiner concluded that petitioner's disability was not causally related to his work. The Director affirmed.

Petitioner raises three arguments before this court. He argues that (1) an inappropriate test was used to determine whether his disability was compensable, (2) the agency decision was not supported by sufficient evidence; and (3) he was not given the benefit of a statutory presumption of compensability. *fn1 We conclude that a remand is required since that agency did not properly apply the standard for determining whether his disability was compensable and the Hearing Examiner failed to address material issues of disputed facts.


Petitioner joined the Hay Group, a large human resources consulting firm, in March 1983 as President of the personnel recruit company, MSL International Limited. Before joining the Hay Group, petitioner had executive experience in personnel recruiting, recruitment consulting, and in personnel administration. As president of MSL International Limited, petitioner was responsible for an eight-office recruiting operation. He claimed that during his tenure as president, he turned it around from an unprofitable organization to a very successful one. Petitioner testified that he worked hard at the Hay Group, but that the work was fun and exciting. Although he traveled a "reasonable amount of time," he was able to spend every weekend with his family and to take off time for vacations and occasional extra days.

In 1985, Saatchi and Saatchi Consulting, Ltd., a large firm headquartered in London, bought the Hay Group. As a result, petitioner's job changed dramatically: overnight he went from president of an eight-office United States operation to Chairman of the Board of an international recruiting company and an important member of an international organization. Without being relieved of any of his former duties as president of the U.S. recruiting company, petitioner was made responsible for recruiting operations in twenty-seven offices with locations in many different countries around the world. He was immediately instructed to install a new world-wide daily cash collection accounting system, in addition to his general management and administrative responsibilities. As chairman he was also expected to engage in business development on an international scale to advance the corporate expansion strategy, a task with which he was totally unfamiliar. Petitioner testified that Saatchi and Saatchi placed unreasonable pressure on him to make his division profitable, in part to pay off debt incurred in the buy-out of the Hay Group. Saatchi and Saatchi implemented plans to stop all new hires and to cut down the existing staff; accordingly, petitioner had the difficult job of letting go employees with long service records. He was also unable to hire the help he needed to assist with his own new responsibilities.

Petitioner's travel time increased substantially after the buy-out. He continued to work out of Washington, D.C., although the company was based in London. Petitioner was thus required to travel to London twenty-seven times in one year, in addition to traveling to Saatchi and Saatchi offices all over the world. Petitioner further testified that while technically he was free to quit his job, he really had no choice but to stay because, being fifty-seven years old, he could not find employment at another company.

In June 1986, petitioner went to his physician because he was experiencing chest pain that he thought was a heart attack. His physician determined that he was not having a heart attack, but was suffering from depression-related disorders and referred him to Dr. Eden, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Dr. Eden diagnosed petitioner as very depressed: two or three weeks earlier he had considered suicide; he had lost his appetite and about 38 pounds; he had become despondent and withdrawn and began avoiding people; his memory started to fail him and he was unable to concentrate; he lost interest in all things and depended entirely on his secretary running his schedule for him; and he developed a phobia for airports such that traveling would put him in a panic. Petitioner left work in June 1986, and has not worked since.

Petitioner also testified that he learned in February 1986, almost half a year before he sought medical help, that the Department of Justice was investigating allegations that one of his subordinates, who was also a close friend, had bribed a government official. By November 1986, the employee who had been charged with bribery and the official who had been accused of accepting the bribe had both implicated petitioner; both of these men were eventually incarcerated. On the advice of counsel, petitioner went to the Justice Department and, in exchange for a promise of immunity, he told prosecutors what he knew about the case. Petitioner was required to take several polygraph examinations, which he said he passed. He also claimed to have been the victim of threats against his life, which he attributed to the investigation. Ultimately, no charges were brought against petitioner.

Petitioner filed a claim for workers' compensation, and a hearing was held. At the hearing, Petitioner offered the deposition testimony of Dr. Eden, who had continued to see petitioner twice a week from July 1986 to May 1988, the date of his deposition. Dr. Eden explained that petitioner suffered from a very serious depressive neurosis. Dr. Eden stated that the demands of petitioner's job after the take-over of Saatchi and Saatchi overloaded petitioner to a point beyond his ability to cope and were largely responsible for his disability. Dr. Eden also concluded that petitioner was unable to work as of May 1988.

Dr. Bruce Kehr, a psychiatrist who also treated petitioner from July 1986 through the time of the DOES hearing, testified that petitioner suffered from a major depressive disorder. Based on medical history told to him by petitioner, Dr. Kehr explained that petitioner suffered from depression which began sometime in early 1986 with symptoms including an inability to go to work, exhaustion, severe headaches, loss of energy, alternating loss of sleep and excessive sleep and, beginning in June 1986, severe anxiety attacks. Dr. Kehr also testified that petitioner developed symptoms associated with agoraphobia, i.e., that petitioner did not want to leave home and would have anxiety attacks upon leaving. *fn2 Dr. Kehr, like Dr. Eden, concluded that the buy out by Saatchi and Saatchi, with its attendant job restructuring and changes in petitioner's job responsibilities, was the cause of petitioner's disability. On cross-examination, Dr. Kehr conceded that his notes from his initial interviews and treatment sessions with petitioner do not focus on petitioner's job and the increased responsibilities, travel and financial pressure. Rather, in a letter to Dr. Eden written following his first meeting with petitioner in July 1986, Dr. Kehr described petitioner's difficulties with the Justice Department, as well as a longstanding problem with his wife's health, as "possible precipitants" to his illness; Dr. Kehr also noted that petitioner "hates his job despite being extremely successful at it." In a second letter, to the Maryland State Department of Education in early 1987, Dr. Kehr described the criminal investigation, petitioner's wife's illness, and the management tactics of the new owners of the Hay Group as having precipitated his disability.

The intervenors offered the deposition of their own expert, Dr. Brian Schulman, a psychiatrist, who testified on the basis of one examination of petitioner on December 1, 1987, and a review of petitioner's medical records including psychiatric reports by Drs. Eden and Kehr. Dr. Schulman stated that petitioner suffered from several mental problems including difficulties with his ability to cope and handle pressure, memory loss, inability to handle complex abstract thinking problems, and a progressive irritability in his mood as well as depressive feelings and bizarre thoughts. Dr. Schulman concluded that petitioner suffered from a combination of depression and dementia, but that the dementia, which was causing petitioner confusion, decreased mental capacity, cognitive disturbances and memory loss, was the more significant contributor to petitioner's disabilities.

Although petitioner explained the demands and pressures of his job after the Saatchi and Saatchi take-over, Dr. Schulman concluded that job stress had not caused petitioner's psychological problems. Dr. Schulman was unable to determine the precise cause of petitioner's dementia, but he believed that "the probable causes included some type of metabolic disturbance." *fn3 In addition, Dr. Schulman found petitioner's work history, as relayed to him through petitioner, significant: petitioner had constantly been ambitious, aggressive, competitive and successful in his work, and nothing in his work ethic or lifestyle changed between 1951 and 1986. Dr. Schulman conceded that if a person is put in a job in which he feels ...

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