Disabled Rider Claims Guild Withholding Payments

A permanently disabled jockey who is part of a lawsuit against The Jockeys' Guild said the Guild office has refused to communicate with him and reimburse him for more than $3,800 in medical and Guild-related expenses.

Gary Donahue, former co-chair of the Disabled Jockeys' Fund, said the Guild owes him $3,853 for dental bills, prescription medicine, a wheelchair purchased in August, and airfare to attend the national Guild assembly in Texas last December. Donahue claims the Guild is withholding payment as a way to reprimand him for speaking out against the Guild's management of finances, and said that is a violation of his rights under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.

"Myself and Gladys Oliveras (wife of disabled jockey Jose Oliveras) are being singled out because we're speaking out against the Guild," Donahue told The Blood-Horse Jan. 25. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Other disabled riders are getting reimbursed for these things and we're not because we're the ones out there speaking against them in the public eye.

"We're protected under the bill of rights in the LMRDA. We can't be reprimanded, can't be disciplined for freedom of speech, or filing a lawsuit, or be denied medical (coverage). That's against the law."

Oliveras, who also attended the December assembly but was asked by the Guild to leave a meeting, is seeking $1,100 from the Guild to cover her prescription medication costs.

Donahue said he called the Guild office Jan. 24 looking for answers for himself and Oliveras but was told the Guild staff had been instructed not to speak to him regarding any matter due to his pending lawsuit.

Guild spokesman Eric Banks told The Blood-Horse Jan. 30 that none of Donahue's claims have been denied at this time.

"Some (claims) are still under review and he's been reimbursed for the rest," Banks said. "It is my understanding that he was sent a check late last week (the week of Jan. 23) for the claims that have been approved."

Banks agreed that personnel at the Guild office were told not to speak with Donahue due to his pending lawsuit.

Donahue was dismissed from his unpaid position as co-chair of the Disabled Jockeys' Fund in December after he joined Eddie King, the former Guild treasurer, in a lawsuit seeking the release of financial information. Donahue has since amended the suit to include a complaint about his abrupt dismissal without formal notification or warning.

"In my mind right now, as of today, I've been kicked out of the Guild if I'm being denied benefits and if I can't have contact with their office," Donahue said.

King was unanimously voted out of the Guild in December. In early January, the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission asked the Guild to explain why King, who met the criteria to be enrolled in a health insurance plan for Delaware jockeys, is having trouble getting back into the plan this year, but the Guild had no comment.

Donahue said he mailed to the Guild a registered letter Jan. 8 that detailed his expenses and asked for reimbursement, only after he had sent repeated faxes of his receipts without a response. He said the letter was accepted by the Guild office and signed Jan. 14, but no one had contacted him as of Jan. 24.

Oliveras, whose husband has been a Guild member for 42 years, said the Guild has always paid her prescription costs without hassle until now. She sent in her reimbursement request to the Guild office Nov. 27 and made repeated follow-up calls that went unanswered for two months until Guild chairman David Shepherd contacted her Jan. 24.

"David Shepherd called and said my request is under investigation because I wasn't married to Jose at the time of his accident (in 1970)," Oliveras said. "I said that shouldn't have anything to do with my reimbursement. A lot of jockeys get married after they start riding and their wives are put on their health insurance."

Banks said Oliveras' claims were honored and a reimbursement check was issued Jan. 24.

"She was never denied the claims she submitted," Banks said.

Oliveras had not received her check in the mail as of Jan. 30.

As a disabled rider, Donahue receives a monthly payment of $350 from the Jockeys' Guild. The Disabled Jockeys' Fund dissolved at the end of 2004, and the Guild now makes payments to disabled riders from its general account.

"I need my insurance, let's face it," Donahue said. "I do receive a small amount from the Jockeys' Guild every month, but whether it's $350 or $3,000, they don't have the right to take that a way from me for speaking up."