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CAMPAIGN 2000

Records Cite Illness of VP Nominee Foster

September 26, 2000|DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reform Party vice presidential candidate Ezola Foster was prescribed an antidepressant drug for most of 1997 and took breaks from her job as a Los Angeles schoolteacher several times during bouts of depression dating to the 1970s, according to records of the state workers' compensation appeals board.

The records indicate Foster filed for workers' compensation benefits three times, twice claiming that she was mentally unable to return to a hostile work environment.

The reports were released to The Times after a workers' compensation judge denied Foster's request to seal her file. Foster could have appealed the ruling, but did not.

Foster, an outspoken black conservative, is Reform Party presidential nominee Pat Buchanan's choice for a running mate. Earlier this month, the ticket prevailed over a rival Reform Party faction in a struggle for $12.6 million in federal matching funds.

Buchanan's campaign did not respond on Monday to a call seeking comment on the records.

The Times reported in August that Foster received workers' compensation payments for a mental disorder she said she had not actually had. At the time, Foster said in an interview that she was "perfectly sane" and that the diagnosis of a mental disorder was "whatever the doctor said that, after working with my attorney, was best to help me."

Psychiatric reports attached to the file suggested her problems were more serious than she indicated. One said Foster suffered post traumatic stress syndrome stemming from incidents at the school where she taught. Another stated that she had a litany of emotional disorders, and a third said that she was prone to blame others for problems and disappointments in her life.

According to the records, Foster quit her job in July 1996 in the face of hostility by students and other teachers at Bell High School, a largely Latino campus, over her views on illegal immigration.

After Foster appeared on a nationally broadcast news program in which she blamed illegal immigration for overcrowding in Los Angeles schools, she claimed she was subjected to verbal harassment and threats.

A flier comparing her comments to Nazi "big lies" was distributed to teachers at the school. Another flier, distributed at the entrance to the campus, called her a "Mexican basher." The flier noted that Foster would be speaking at a July 4 rally called by a group opposed to illegal immigration and urged that people "smash her." At the rally, a melee broke out, preventing Foster from speaking.

Foster said she feared for her life and ended her 33-year teaching career. She then applied for workers' compensation benefits based on emotional disability.

The Los Angeles Unified School District contested the claim.

Psychiatrists working for the district contended that Foster exhibited "an intense conviction that there is one person or one group or one situation" behind all her problems. But they said that her departure from Bell represented "realistic reactions to a set of circumstances and do not represent any form of psychological injury or disorder."

Foster's psychiatrist, by contrast, said she suffered from emotional maladies including social withdrawal, anxiety, temper outbursts, sleep disturbance, flashbacks and "recurrent, intrusive recollections of traumatic events."

A third psychiatrist hired to give a neutral opinion concluded that Foster suffered post traumatic stress syndrome because of "a constellation of symptoms" that were disabling "even though they were based on reasonable fear."

Eventually, the school district reached a settlement with Foster in which the district paid her $16,000 for future medical expenses and paid her past medical fees, including $2,000 for a 15-month supply of the antidepressant Zoloft.

By then, Foster had qualified for a disability retirement, which remained in effect until she reached 60 in 1998.

In a deposition in the case, the neutral psychiatrist said Foster had suffered from earlier incidents dating to the 1970s in which she showed symptoms of hysteria and depression and stopped working for periods of time.

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