Stanislaus deputy back on job after 'limp, lame, lazy' flap

01/29/2013 1:59 PM

06/26/2013 2:29 PM

A former deputy whose unresolved discrimination trial uncovered the Sheriff's Department's use of a "limp, lame and lazy" list was reinstated Monday and reports to work this morning.

Dennis Wallace, on unpaid leave for two years, said he is "ecstatic."

"This vindicates my argument but doesn't resolve all the issues," including the possibility of a new trial and unresolved workers compensation claims.

His lawsuit against Stanislaus County and the Sheriff's Department ended in a hung jury in August. A previous injury should not keep him from working, he had said, while the county contended that he could put co-workers and the public at risk.

Nancy Bronstein, deputy executive officer over human resources, confirmed Tuesday that Wallace recently passed a fitness-for-duty exam and will return today.

The county launched an investigation into the Sheriff's Department's use of "limp, lame and lazy" to describe injured employees, and Sheriff Adam Christianson publicly apologized in August.

Christianson refused to comment Tuesday.

Wallace said he has subsisted on "faith, family and friends."

Jurors had dismissed portions of Wallace's discrimination claims, and a judge in December scheduled a May 7 retrial on whether the county had adequately engaged with Wallace in an interactive process to find tasks he could perform.

The department continues to face lawsuits brought by two other former deputies who say they were forced out after being injured, with no interaction.

Another department detective was reinstated and given back pay after threatening to sue for a reassignment he felt was punitive, prompting new county policy mandating such give-and-take negotiations, his lawyer said.

Wallace said he feels his case helped upgrade the county's approach. "Sure, it makes things better in the long run, but it's pathetic that it took my case to address and change it when I was standing at the corner all along, saying, 'This is wrong,' " he said. "I was disciplined for being hurt."

Wallace was not asked to dismiss legal challenges as a condition of returning to work, said County Counsel John Doering.

During the trial, the county relied on evaluations by state workers compensation doctors, Doering said, while the recent test was performed by a county-hired doctor who declared Wallace fit for duty.

"That's consistent with what he said during the trial," Doering said, "but the county is in a predicament because workers comp has not cleared him. We're in a Catch-22, and it's difficult to plot the course."

Wallace said a hearing for his workers compensation claims is scheduled for Monday. He said he will be required to recertify in several areas of law enforcement training.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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