Sheriff’s Dispatcher Reinstated After Arbitrator Finds Manager Lied
SEAN D. HOWELL
Senior Associate Attorney
Mastagni Holstedt, APC
Assistant Dispatch Manager Ron Elkins of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department was reinstated and awarded back pay by the Lake County Board of Supervisors after an advisory arbitration award reversing Sheriff Brian Martini’s decision to terminate him. Elkins had four separate internal affairs cases suspending, demoting and terminating him, which were all consolidated into one disciplinary hearing before arbitrator Norman Brand. During the advisory arbitration proceeding, we were able to disprove absurd allegations of smoking within 20 feet of a door, failing to correct the dispatch manager’s scheduling mistake, failing to take personal property home and being rude to a caller.
The allegations against Elkins were insignificant and not grounds for termination
The dispatch manager began her attack on Elkins even before she became his manager. First hired as Elkins’ subordinate, she filed a complaint against him for comments he made when exchanging a gift. Later, when she was promoted from dispatcher to the department head, her first order of business was to look in Elkins’ personnel file to determine the outcome of the complaint she made. When she discovered that the Department issued no discipline, she resumed targeting Elkins.
Days before her promotion, the manager issued an email ordering dispatch staff to smoke more than 20 feet from the door. Her email indicated that she was the dispatch manager at the time, when in fact she was not. Elkins smoked by the ashtray the Department placed just feet from the door. The manager then took disciplinary action against him for smoking next to the ashtray, within 20 feet from the door. Interestingly, the manager’s father-in-law was the reporting party, as he just so happened to be at the Department at the very moment Elkins was smoking. The manager’s testimony about the reporting of the smoking incident referred to the reporting party as a “private citizen,” not her father-in-law. The Department imposed a suspension for this alleged misconduct.
Next, the manager alleged that Elkins made a scheduling mistake by allowing a suspended employee to come into work for an overtime shift during the time of the suspension, in contravention of the manager’s memorandum. However, Elkins did not make the scheduling adjustment. A supervisor in the dispatch center allowed the suspended employee to work in violation of the manager’s order and even called her to confirm it was permissible. Elkins filed a grievance for the manager’s decision to allow the suspended employee to work during her suspension, as it was a violation of the past practice. The manager retaliated by opening an internal affairs investigation against Elkins, alleging that he created the scheduling error, not her. Later, the manager claimed that Elkins should have countermanded the permission she gave and not allowed the employee to work the shift. The Department demoted Elkins from assistant dispatch manager to dispatch supervisor, and added an additional suspension for the manager’s mistake.
Finally, the Department issued Elkins two separate termination notices, for failing to take personal property home that was stored in his personal cabinet and for being rude on a call, respectively. Neither of these amounted to a terminable issue, but the manager’s determination to place Elkins under a microscope and capitalize on any mistake, however miniscule, led to a decision to terminate his employment.
The arbitrator found that the dispatch manager lied during her testimony and blamed Elkins for her own mistakes
In a rare occurrence, the arbitrator issued specific findings that the dispatch manager was dishonest and provided selective testimony. The arbitrator found that she was “disingenuous, evasive, lacked credibility” and had promised a supervisor disciplinary immunity to create a situation for the supervisor to lie about what had happened and implicate Elkins. He further found that the discipline imposed was a result of the manager’s lies and the Sheriff’s erroneous reliance on those lies.
The final case involved Elkins being rude on a call. The citizen complained about a male dispatcher being rude to her during a call, but the dispatcher was never identified. Yet the manager concluded that Elkins was rude on other calls, even though she could not find the actual call about which the citizen complained. Interestingly, the arbitrator found that the only other dispatcher working was another male dispatcher, and the manager never pulled his calls to see if he was the one who was rude to the citizen who complained. The arbitrator found that Elkins was targeted by the manager. This rash judgment prevented her from conducting an objective investigation regarding the citizen complaint to determine who was actually on the call, and instead used it as an opportunity to add another spurious allegation to her list she was making for the Sheriff and his investigators.
The advisory decision was taken to the Lake County Board of Supervisors, who adopted the arbitrator’s decision in part and rejected it in part. The Board of Supervisors ordered Elkins reinstated, and awarded him back pay for the wrongful disciplinary action taken against him.
Elkins is grateful for the excellent representation he received from the Mastagni Law Firm, which was provided to him by the PORAC Legal Defense Fund. Without the benefit of the attorneys provided by the LDF, and the LDF’s support, this favorable decision would not have been possible.
About the Author
Sean D. Howell is a Senior Associate Attorney with Mastagni Holstedt, APC. He represented Assistant Dispatch Manager Ron Elkins in his administrative appeal