Gene Nooner saw the 200-pound steel hatch slam full force against his face and skull.
Gene Nooner's story is really very simple. He has been abused. During the past decade, Nooner was required to undergo thirty-five shock treatments he later discovered were probably unnecessary, became addicted to drugs prescribed by his doctors, was knowingly and fraudulently mislabeled schizophrenic to prevent his re-employment, has been forced to support his wife and child on monthly welfare checks, was blackballed from working at his chosen trade, and is now involved in two federal lawsuits and three civil lawsuits in an effort to regain some of his lost income and self-esteem.
Jeanne, Jan, Gene Nooner. Nooner and his family have had to sell “everything we own,” including their 1960 Comet, a vertical saw, tools of Nooner’s trade, a cement mixer, a washing machine, and a clothes dryer.
Nooner's plight began one morning eleven years ago. At 6:45 a.m. on October 2, 1969, Nooner stepped outside his brand-new mobile home in the Thunderbird Mobile Lodge on Anita Street in Chula Vista, climbed into his 1968 Volkswagen bug, and warmed the engine for a few minutes before driving away. He had kissed good-bye his wife Jan and their five-year-old daughter Jeanne, and now it was time to get to work.
Nooner was employed as a shipfitter at National Steel and Shipbuilding Company on the waterfront at Harbor Drive and Twenty-eighth Street. It was Nooner’s habit to arrive at the NASSCO shipyard by seven every morning, even though his shift did not begin until eight. By coming to work an hour early, he was almost always assured of finding a decent parking space in the parking lot across the street from NASSCO’s front gates.
The Department of Labor has asked Nooner to settle out of court with NASSCO for $40,000.
Nooner was not alone as an early bird; other men on his shift had the same idea. He and some of the others met regularly before work every morning while waiting for the shift whistle to blow. Nooner always brought with him a large thermos full of steaming black coffee and a fresh pack of unfiltered Pall Malls to help pass the time until the midnight shift came bounding down the ramps of the gigantic ships under construction. Nooner and his fellow workers then trooped up the gangway to one of seventeen LST ships NASSCO was building for the Navy. The LSTs are huge vessels with drawbridge-like openings at either end of the hull. “We used to kid about it when they were building the Coronado Bridge,” Nooner remembers. “We said, ‘Hell, why don’t they just line up some of those LSTs end to end instead?’ Cars could drive right in one end and out the other.”
On this day, Nooner was part of an eight-man detail —called the door, hatch, and scuttle crew — whose job it was to ensure that the hinged openings between decks and to the cabins were functional and safe. As Nooner was soon to learn, they were neither.
Nooner and a man from his crew were assigned to inspect one of the hatches leading from the main deck down below. The hatch, which lies flat when closed and sealed, was propped at a ninety-degree angle by two one-inch-thick stanchion pipes. Attached to the end of each pipe is a steel cable, an eighth of an inch in diameter and seven inches long, with a collapsible pin at one end. The pin slips through a matching hole in the hatch and is locked in place. The hatch itself is quite heavy — about 200 pounds — and if opened too far can flip over backward and damage the hinges. If it isn't secured well enough and falls forward, a man trying to break the fall could easily rupture himself or injure his back. It was important, then, to secure the stanchion pipes to the open hatch.
By nine-thirty Nooner was scrutinizing the hinges on this particular hatch for strength and stability. He expected nothing unusual; it was just like the others. “I knew every hatch, scuttle, and door on that ship,” Nooner says. “Hell, I had to make out papers in triplicate to show the inspectors that each hatch was in perfect working order.” He remembers the incessant rattle of a chipper — a pneumatic drill with a chisel attached — about twenty feet away. The crewman with the chipper was cutting away at a weld that had stuck to the deck during construction.
Nooner was standing in the stairwell so that only his head and shoulders were exposed above the main deck surface. This was the normal position for viewing hinges at eye level. Nooner’s partner stood below him on the ladderlike stairs, ready to hand up any necessary tools. Unknown to the two men intent on the hatch hinges, the constant pounding of the nearby chipper was causing the two locking pins in the support stanchions to straighten out, slip back through the lock holes, and allow the stanchions to fall away.
Nooner’s head was cocked slightly to the side when he saw the 200-pound steel hatch slam full force against his face and skull. The force knocked him back against the stairwell and sat him down on a stairstep. Probably the only thing that prevented him front being killed outright was the safety helmet he always wore. The hatch smashed against the deck, bounced up, and crashed down again on Nooner’s head, which was still at deck level. Several more times the hatch bounced against Nooner’s skull, like a tennis ball dropped on concrete. Finally, the hatch came to rest flush with the deck.
Immediately the deck hands rushed down below through a nearby hatch, climbed up the ladder where Nooner was lying in semiconsciousness, and carried him to the infirmary in the main administration building. Nooner remembers little except company physician Dr. Romeo Quini peering into his face and telling him he should go to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City and get some X rays. “I was crying, ” Nooner recalls. “I was in a lot of pain. I thought my neck was broke. I thought my skull was cracked. And then the doctor tells me to drive myself to the hospital. He said he had no one to take me there. I told him I could barely move, much less drive a car. Then he told me to take a cab, but I didn’t have enough money. I told him, ‘For Christ’s sake! Call my mother! Call my wife! Call somebody!’ ”
Gene Nooner was bom in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on January 1, 1931. After his parents divorced when he was six, Nooner lived with his father. They traveled around the country while his dad sought work as a painter and paperhanger. When Gene got out of school in the afternoons his father would pick him up and take him out to the work site. It was only natural that when the boy got older he, too, would take up the trade.
In 1941 Gene’s father enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a tail gunner on a B-17. During the four years his father saw service, Gene stayed with his mother in San Diego. He attended school only intermittently. “It was hard for me changing schools,” he says. “So much shifting around, going up grades, being put back grades. It was rough.” When Gene rejoined his father after the war, he gave it another try at Hot Springs High. But in 1946 he quit the tenth grade and never went back.
During his early adult life Nooner took jobs as a painter, in a potato processing plant, on a production line, in a magazine distributorship, and finally back as a painter. While visiting his sister in San Diego in 1963, Nooner met the former Jan Iannus, whom he married in Elko, Nevada, later that year. Their baby, Jeanne, arrived a year after that, and the young family settled in San Jose. Nooner took a job with C.B.Hobbs-Collier Briquets as a maintenance mechanic, and was soon elected shop steward for the local union. Later he worked at Dodge and Erinson, a San Jose firm that bought and sold food machinery. That lasted a year until he was offered a better-paying job at Martin Produce Company, carrot processors, in the central California valley town of Salinas. He was promoted to foreman and was transferred to Grants, New Mexico, to oversee the construction and operation of a new Martin Produce plant.
By April of 1967 Nooner was working seven days a week, ten and twelve hours a day, trying to keep the fledgling plant operating. He was supervising work crews, maintaining trucks and equipment, keeping tabs on the paperwork . . . and it was overwhelming him. A subsequent nervous breakdown caused him to resign from his job, move back to Salinas, and take a less demanding post as a maintenance mechanic with Coleman Electric, a company specializing in power transformers.
In October of 1968 he was hired as a shipfitter with the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company on Harbor Drive in San Diego. A shipfitter is the man who actually builds the ship; he puts together the hull, welds, installs machinery. While visiting his mother here, Nooner had seen the job advertised in the San Diego Union classified section, applied, and was hired. “I loved it,” he recalls. “I like being part of making something grow. I’ve never had any complaints with my job at NASSCO. ”
He never had any complaints, that is, until company doctor Romeo Quini told him to take a cab to the hospital. Nooner’s wife Jan was finally contacted at Ryan Aeronautics, where she worked in the payroll department. She drove her 1960 Comet the three miles to NASSCO, loaded her husband in the car, and drove him to Paradise Valley Hospital.
Doctors at the hospital took X rays and reported back to Quini: Nooner had contusions to the upper left quadrant of his cranium and a severe concussion. Subsequent tests indicated nerve damage. Quini told the doctors to send Nooner back to NASSCO. When Nooner arrived, Quini told him to stay at home for a week until he felt better.
But Nooner did not get better. Most of that week is still a blank to him. His wife told him later that he spent his time in bed, moaning in agony. At the end of the week Dr. Quini called up Nooner at home and asked him how he was feeling. Nooner said he was “still in a hell of a lot of pain. ” Quini asked Nooner if he could stand up. Nooner said yes, but that the slightest movement sent sharp pains shooting through his neck and head. Quini said come on back to the shipyard anyway, that he wouldn’t really have to work. (Nooner theorizes now that NASSCO would have rather kept a nonworking man on the payroll rather than on the injured list so as to avoid snoopy government agencies investigating shipyard safety.)
Although Nooner didn’t much like the idea of going back to work in his injured condition, he obeyed the doctor’s order and showed up at NASSCO the next Monday. He rode to work with his wife or with fellow workers. When he arrived at the shipyard, he tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. “Mostly I just hid myself,’’ he remembers. “I stayed out of the way of everything. God, I was embarrassed. I tried to do things, but I was in too much pain. I spent a lot of my day finding compartments to hide in and cry. ’’ Because the pain was so great, Nooner was forced to miss a number of days from work — days for which he has never been paid. On the days Nooner was able to come to work, he was given treatment by Dr. Quini: lukewarm towels on his neck twice a day.
Dr. Quini left NASSCO ten months later and was replaced by Dr. Roy Springer in August of 1970. Nooner and his family had just moved to a one-bedroom house with a separate guest cottage on one and a half acres in Lakeside. The purchase price was a bargain at $18,900. Nooner was now able to handle little chores at work. In fact, the company had given him the largely ceremonial post of lead man on a newly formed door, hatch, and scuttle crew.
Dr. Springer told Nooner he was surprised the injured worker had never been seen by a specialist. Springer sent Nooner to visit Dr. Robert Cranston, a neurosurgeon with an office at 5565 Grossmont Center Drive in La Mesa. Cranston in turn sent Nooner to other doctors, including Dr. Gerald Hurst, a neurologist, and Dr. Paul Parker, a psychiatrist. Parker, whose practice was located at 7808 El Cajon Boulevard in La Mesa, gave Nooner a series of brain scans. The results, according to documents placed by Parker in Nooner’s medical file, show that the pain from which Nooner was still suffering was very real indeed, and not psychological in nature. Parker gave Nooner a clean bill of mental health.
Dr. Cranston, meanwhile, was giving Nooner hypodermic injections of Xylocaine, a painkiller, around the temporalis artery above Nooner’s left ear. For the first time since the accident nearly one year earlier, someone was actually doing something for the pain in his head. But the injections themselves hurt so much that Nooner began fearing them.
For three months Nooner was attended to by Dr. Cranston. When the other doctors — those to whom Nooner was sent by Cranston — began sending their bills to the company, NASSCO refused to pay. The company claimed it had never approved the visits to psychiatrist Parker, neurologist Hurst, or Grossmont Hospital, where several tests on Nooner were carried out. Because NASSCO refused, the bills, which totaled several hundred dollars, were diverted to Nooner himself.
It was at this point, in July, 1971, that Nooner retained his first attorney, Don Kline. Kline, who was the legal counsel for the Ironworkers Union local 627 to which Nooner belonged, filed a workmen’s compensation claim with the state of California in Nooner’s behalf. Later that month NASSCO agreed to pay the disputed medical bills, but removed Dr. Cranston from the case. For three months, Nooner had no medical attention.
On September 15, the Fireman’s Fund insurance company, which handles the insurance paperwork for NASSCO (NASSCO is a self-insured company), directed Nooner to another neurosurgeon. Dr. Mark Bushard, of 3405 Kenyon Street in Loma Portal. Nooner saw Bushard for nearly two months before NASSCO announced a general layoff. Nooner lost his job, which, as it turns out, was just as well, because on November 14, 1971, he commenced his time as a prescription drug addict — or, as he prefers, “a human vegetable."
Even though he had lost his job, the company was still liable for the medical bills. On November 14, Nooner was sent by Dr. Bushard to Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest for a series of arterial angiograms. Nooner was then prescribed a barbiturate before each meal, Midrin II capsules for headaches, and Aldomet II tablets once a day to lower his blood pressure. On November 20, Bushard send Nooner to Mercy Hospital again to be treated for arterial hypertension. He was treated with narcotics, barbiturates, muscle relaxants, analgesics, and stimulants.
On February 3, 1972, Bushard sent Nooner to Dr. Douglas Davidson, an internist with an office at 3737 Moraga in San Diego, for evaluation and treatment. Davidson began prescribing barbiturates. Valium, and a blood-thinning medication. Then, on April 19, 1972, in a letter placed in Nooner’s medical file, Bushard, referring to the head injury, stated, “He [Nooner] is totally disabled for any gainful occupation.’’
Doctors Bushard and Davidson, over the next ten months, prescribed the following drugs: Valium, Nembutal, Percodan, Fiorenal, Talwin, Prescoline, Aldomet, Dalmane, Hygroton, Dilantin, Inderal, Lasix, chloral hydrate, Sinequan, and Quaalude. More than half of these drugs are addictive. At the height of his prescription drug-taking, Nooner was consuming eighteen to twenty ten-milligram Valiums a day, eight grain-and-a-half Nembutals each night, as well as “handfuls” of the above drugs. “I was taking eight or nine different drugs during the day and then the Nembutal at night to help me sleep,” Nooner says. “But it didn’t help. I still hurt; at least, when I was able to think.” Nooner’s wife recounts the times her husband sat in a lounge chair in the living room ostensibly watching television, and let his Pall Malls burn down so far she could smell the flesh of his fingers burning. Fully addicted to his doctors’ drugs, he would frequently use up a prescription faster than recommended, and the doctors would unhesitatingly renew them without question.
But there is a hero to this chapter of Nooner’s story — the pharmacist who had been filling the prescriptions Nooner’s wife presented every week. “Leo Ward saved my life,” says Nooner emphatically. Leo E. Ward. R.Ph., is the owner of Leo’s Lakeside Pharmacy in Lakeside. In May, 1972, Ward told Nooner’s wife Jan that she should commit her husband to a hospital and break him of his drug dependence. “Even though they were legal prescriptions,” Ward wrote in a letter on June 1, 1977, for Nooner’s records, “as a concerned pharmacist f was in fear of his life. Mr. Nooner’s wife then contacted a drug-abuse center, and was informed by them that her husband was just a human vegetable. ” Members of a local drug-abuse center came to the Nooner household each day for thirty consecutive days and tried to convince Nooner to check into a hospital for treatment. But according to Nooner, “I couldn’t even carry on a conversation.’’ Nooner finally entered Vista Hill Hospital, a private medical facility in Chula Vista, for treatment of his addiction on July 14, 1972. Nooner at this time was still under the care of his NASSCO-appointed doctor, Mark Bushard. Although he had asked to be put under the care of Don Schwerdtfeger, a doctor specializing in cases of drug addiction, Nooner was instead assigned to a psychiatrist named Gary Aden on the recommendation of Dr. Bushard. Aden began visiting Nooner at Vista Hill, where Nooner was to remain for the next six months. While at Vista Hill, Nooner went through psychotherapy, group therapy, and massages of the neck and shoulders. And then came the shock treatments — thirty-five of them, all prescribed by Aden. Twenty-five occurred during his stay at Vista Hill, and ten more followed during the first few months of 1973 at Mercy Hospital. It was during his stay at Vista Hill that Nooner was diagnosed a latent schizophrenic and was prescribed shock treatments for that disease as well as for depression.
The distressing part of this episode, though, had nothing to do with electrotherapy. Rather, it was that Nooner may not have been schizophrenic at all, latent or otherwise, and may not have needed the shock treatments. This probability is supported by Dr. Gary Aden himself. On May 26, 1977 — more than four years after Nooner was subjected to the shock therapy — Nooner received a memorandum from Dr. Aden which said in part that Aden had been unaware of the extent of Nooner’s drug addiction, and that the symptoms of drug addiction might have been mistaken for the symptoms of depression and schizophrenia. Among other things which later were verified, Nooner told Aden at Vista Hill that “my doctors have addicted me.’’ According to Nooner’s psychiatric record of that time, it was evident that drug addiction was his primary reason for having entered the hospital. Nooner’s pharmacist. Leo Ward, had official records to attest to the kinds and amounts of drugs Nooner had been taking. Yet, in the same 1977 memo, Aden says he was not aware of the extent of Nooner’s addiction. Efforts to clarify this apparent oversight have been futile. Aden would not respond to telephone calls placed recently with his office.
For one year after the shock treatments, Nooner attempted to reconstruct his life. His memory loss was so great that even today he cannot recall events that happened less than ten years ago, and must constantly refer to voluminous documents he carries with him wherever he goes. He and his wife Jan, who left her job to care for him, were battling to save their troubled marriage. And through all this. Gene Nooner’s daughter was growing into a young woman; she is now a sophomore at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. “She’s been great through this,” Nooner says. "Both she and my wife. I don’t know how they did it.”
After his six months of treatment at Vista Hill, Aden pronounced Nooner cured and gave him an unconditional medical release to return to work. Nooner wanted his job back as a NASSCO ship-fitter. NASSCO, however, did not want Nooner. Fearing that he might have some difficulty regaining his position after so long a hiatus, Nooner contacted the state Fair Employment Practices Commission. Armed with medical files attesting to his mental and physical well-being, he asked for his old job. A NASSCO personnel officer, Devon Smith, told Nooner and the state commission that it would take approval from the regular NASSCO physician before the company would agree to rehire Nooner. As requested, Nooner was examined in the office of NASSCO’s Dr. John H. Beatty. This was in June, 1975. It was Nooner’s impression that the physical examination by Beatty went well. He was mistaken. In a letter to the Fair Employment Practices Commission dated June 27, 1975, Dr. Beatty said, “According to hospital records, Mr. Nooner is a chronic schizophrenic who has been mentally ill off and on since 1967. Hospitalization for this illness was recently required twenty months ago. He is now in remission of that illness.”
On the basis of that letter, Nooner was rejected for re-employment. Dr. Beatty told an official of the state commission that he found out about Nooner’s supposed schizophrenia from reading his mental health records at Mercy Hospital. But a letter written to Nooner on October 13, 1977, from Arlene Doerr, director of medical records services at Mercy Hospital, says, “Records of your [Nooner’s] admission to our Mental Health Unit were withheld from Dr. Beatty.” Contacted at his home where he now lives in Berkeley, Dr. Beatty insisted he saw the first page of Nooner’s mental health records, and thus concluded that Nooner was schizophrenic, even though this is disputed by the Doerr letter. Beatty was then asked if he were aware that the doctor who made the original diagnosis of schizophrenia. Dr. Gary Aden, said later that his own diagnosis was probably wrong. Beatty replied he doubted the sincerity of Aden’s retraction. “A doctor will say just about anything you tell him to if it will help get your job back,” Beatty said recently. ‘‘I didn’t believe he [Nooner] was cured.” Beatty admitted, however, that his information was secondhand, and that he himself had never made a diagnosis.
State laws in California concerning a patient’s private mental health records are among the strictest in the nation; their privacy is assiduously guarded. Whether Beatty learned of Nooner’s previously diagnosed condition from an ill-gotten file, or from a conversation with Dr. Gary Aden, which is more likely (and which is also illegal, if that information is to be used professionally without the patient’s permission), what Beatty actually did was create a false medical document that was to hound Nooner for years. If Beatty called Nooner schizophrenic based on information which he had no right to see, one might think publication of that information would be illegal, that it would be against the law to create a false medical document with fraudulent intent. But in fact, until September, 1979, it was completely legal for a doctor to do just that.
Nooner thought there was something drastically wrong. First, Dr. Gary Aden says Nooner is schizophrenic and prescribes shock treatments, then says he may have been wrong in doing so. Then Dr. John Beatty gains access to this probably faulty diagnosis (information to which he had no legal right), and writes it in a letter which NASSCO uses as its rationale for not rehiring Nooner. But the irony of the situation magnified when Nooner obtained a copy of a letter from a NASSCO official which was in direct contradiction to Beatty’s letter. On July 23, 1975, less than one month after the Beatty letter was written, Devon Smith, director of industrial relations and personnel for NASSCO, sent a letter to Fair Employment Practices Commission representative George B. Winston, Jr., which said NASSCO had been presented with medical evidence “that clearly indicates he [Nooner] has no physical or mental handicap.”
What that somewhat contradictory letter meant to NASSCO’s parent company, Kaiser Industries, was that someone at NASSCO didn’t know what they were doing. On November 21, 1975, Kaiser Industries took over from NASSCO in dealing with the Fair Employment Practices Commission concerning Gene Nooner. On that date a letter was written by Kaiser’s industrial relations counsel, David B. Reeves, to Winston of the state commission, which ignored the letter from NASSCO’s Devon Smith and reiterated the letter from Dr. John Beatty calling Nooner schizophrenic. Only now, in Reeves’ letter, Nooner was being called an “incurable” schizophrenic. At this point Nooner realized that his mental health records were being unscrupulously manipulated. The letter from Kaiser Industries was inserted in Nooner’s employment file with NASSCO, making his chances for future employment anywhere look bleaker than , ever, and in effect retiring him from the work force. He had been branded “an incurable schizophrenic” by a third party he had never seen, and now this was part of his permanent employment record.
Inexplicably, the state Fair Employment Practices Commission dropped its investigation into the Nooner complaint in December of 1976, saying it had no jurisdiction in areas of mental health disputes.
Nooner was incredulous. By this time he had begun a campaign to find out just what had been done to him in the previous seven years. The complexity of his case only added to his difficulty in finding the proper state and federal agencies to help him, so he sought help elsewhere. First he telephoned the newsroom of Channel 10 and talked to “Call For Action” reporter Pete Pepper. Pepper, now with KNXT Channel 2 in Los Angeles, was the first reporter actively to investigate the remarkable saga of Gene Nooner.
Pepper, accompanied by Nooner, demanded that James Horton, a senior consultant with the Fair Employment Practices Commission, verify the NASSCO claims of Nooner’s alleged schizophrenia. Horton said the matter was complete, that the case had been closed. NASSCO’s Dr. Beatty said he had seen Nooner’s mental health files and that was that. But Pepper insisted that this be verified. In October of 1977. Pepper, Nooner, and Horton went to Mercy Hospital, where the files showed the mental health records had been specifically withheld from Dr. Beatty. But even with this evidence, Horton refused to reopen the case.
Pepper put Nooner in contact with the correct agencies within the United States Department of Labor to investigate violations of the federal Longshoreman’s Act; in particular, that NASSCO had settled a workman’s compensation claim in 1973 with Nooner under state guidelines rather than under the correct federal procedures — a settlement which cost Nooner thousands of dollars he rightfully deserved.
Altogether, Nooner was featured on Pepper’s “Call For Action” segment of the evening news a dozen times. In a “To Whom It May Concern” letter which Nooner carries with him. Pepper says, “A huge corporation continues to slander him and to injure him by that slander; a huge corporation which survives because of equally huge government contracts. And no one will bring it to account. Perhaps no one can bring it to account.”
Nooner then began calling newspaper reporters. In the past three years stories on Nooner have appeared in the San Diego Union, the Evening Tribune, the Daily Transcript, the Chula Vista Star-News, the El Cajon Daily Californian, and on the wires of Associated Press and United Press International. In November of 1978, the Committee for Fair Treatment of Injured Workers — a local organization composed of lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, professional and health organizations, pharmacists, and others — formed a support committee to work in favor of Gene Nooner’s cause.
Representative Clare Burgener, a Republican from La Jolla, has aided Nooner in dealing with the federal department of labor, as has the office of Senator S.I. Hayakawa. But perhaps Nooner’s greatest coup was enlisting the support of state Senator William Craven, a Republican from Oceanside. Based directly on Nooner’s case. Craven and his aide, Leonard Block, developed two new laws which they pushed through the state legislature last year. The first makes it a misdemeanor and a violation of the business and professions code to create a false medical document with fraudulent intent. The second law adds certain curable mental illnesses to the state Fair Employment Practices Act, meaning a person can no longer be refused a job simply because he had at one time been mentally ill, even though that person has been cured.
Neither of these laws, however, will help Nooner, because they are not retroactive. For legal relief. Nooner has taken his complaints to the courts. He is now embroiled in five lawsuits:
— Libel and slander, filed against NASSCO on November 18, 1976, charging that he was libelously mislabeled a chronic schizophrenic, and seeking $700,000 in damages.
— Negligent misrepresentation and intentional intliction of emotional distress, filed against Kaiser Industries, NASSCO, Devon Smith (of the NASSCO personnel office), and Dr. John Beatty on November 7, 1977, and seeking $1.5 million in damages. (These two lawsuits were joined together in January of 1978 and will be heard by a jury in San Diego Superior Court next October 15.)
— Federal Longshoreman’s Act violation. Originally filed in 1971 and allowed to lapse because of poor legal advice, this suit was reactivated last November. NASSCO settled a workmen’s compensation claim with Nooner in 1973 for $2500 under state laws, rather than under federal laws, as should have been done. A claims adjuster for the Department of Labor recommended last January 8 that NASSCO pay Nooner $27,500 for partial total disability, as well as $10,646 in medical bills. NASSCO has neither appealed that decision nor paid the money, despite demands to do so by Nooner’s current attorney, Irwin Schroeder of San Diego.
— Employment discrimination. Filed in Nooner’s behalf by the Department of Labor against NASSCO on July 27, 1977, the suit claims that NASSCO used false information in refusing to rehire Nooner. The Department of Labor has asked Nooner to settle out of court with NASSCO for $40,000 but Nooner’s acceptance is pending.
— Bad faith, filed against NASSCO. Fireman’s Fund. Dr. Mark Bushard, Dr. Douglas Davidson, Dr. Gary Aden, and several employees of NASSCO and Fireman’s Fund on February 11, this suit claims the defendants contributed to the preparation of a fraudulent document (i.e., the state workmen’s compensation settlement which should have been filed under federal regulation) and withheld medical records from the state workmen’s compensation system, Nooner. and his attorneys. It seeks five million dollars in punitive damages. No trial date has yet been scheduled.
Nooner and his family have had to sell “everything we own,” according to Nooner, including their 1960 Comet, a vertical saw, tools of Nooner’s trade, a cement mixer, a washing machine, and a clothes dryer. They have survived on welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and temporary jobs Nooner has held since 1975.
In partial compensation for the tragedy which has become his life, Nooner has received various plaudits, including a commendation from the City of El Cajon, a commendation from the San Diego City Council, a letter of support from county Supervisor Lucille Moore, a letter of support from Assemblyman Robert Frazee, and a letter of support from San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. Most of these were in the form of encouragement in his fight to see the enactment of the two state laws based on his struggles.
On February 26, Nooner was honored by the Church of Holistic Science at an award banquet, where he was presented with the church’s annual Humanitarian Award and other honors presented by aides to Senator Craven and Assemblyman Frazee. Present at the event were the following people: District Attorney Edwin L. Miller, Jr.; Susan Huguenor, chief of the city attorney’s fraud division; Jeff Marston, field representative for Senator S.I. Hayakawa; Supervisor Lucille Moore; Robert C. Coates, president of the Mental Health Association; and several attorneys and doctors who have followed this case.
Any doubt as to Nooner’s ability to hold a job, or concerning his physical and mental health, should be dispelled by this judgment from psychologist Martin M. Schorr, written January 21, 1977: “I believe a good case can be made to delete any past reference to schizophrenia.’’ Or by this from Dr. Gary Aden on January 17, 1977: “1 consider him fully and successfully treated. ” Gene Nooner has turned the quest for his rights into a full-time occupation, the only one he has. He is still unemployed.