MODESTO — Deputy Dennis Wallace, who is suing Stanislaus County for alleged discrimination, testified in a trial Thursday about a January 2011 meeting in which sheriff's officials said he was no longer physically fit enough to do his job.
"I was stunned, greatest disappointment ever," Wallace said on the witness stand in his second attempt at suing the county. The first trial ended in August with a hung jury.
Wallace was working as a courthouse bailiff when sheriff's officials sent him home without pay. He had suffered numerous on-the-job injuries throughout his career, but recovered each time and returned to work.
After the last injury, a surgeon cleared Wallace to return to work, but not as a street patrol deputy. The doctor said it would be OK for him to work as a court bailiff.
Wallace was called into the Jan. 5, 2011, meeting with his supervisors, a county official and sheriff's internal affairs investigators. They had a report from Richard Baker, a worker compensation doctor, who determined Wallace no longer could handle his duties.
Wallace told them he could return to a former job as an anti-drug program coordinator or his former job working as a community deputy/detective in Salida. But Wallace was told to go home.
The deputy requested a "fitness for duty" exam, but that initially was refused. He said he retrieved his lunch pail from one of the courtrooms, changed out of his uniform into his own clothes in the locker room and left the courthouse.
Leaving his job that day, he said, was embarrassing and devastating. "I felt terrible, lost, like getting gutted," Wallace testified.
After the first trial ended without a resolution and as he prepared for the second trial, county officials offered him a chance to take the "fitness for duty" exam. He passed it and was allowed to return to the department in January to work as a patrol deputy in Hughson.
About getting his job back, Wallace said he was "elated, greatest feeling."
He testified that had he been allowed to take the exam when he was sent home in 2011, he would have passed it then. At issue in his second trial is Wallace's loss of two years of pay and benefits.
Morin Jacob, the county's attorney, has argued that Wallace was eager to take advantage of injury leave and refused other jobs that don't require carrying a firearm and whose retirement benefits aren't as generous.
Even though it was not a demotion from his deputy position, a job with the Probation Department would mean less pay, so Wallace didn't apply. He also testified he interviewed for a job as an investigator with the district attorney's office, but he wasn't one of the 20 finalists for the position.
Testimony in the civil trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.