On April 17, Mono County Judge Stan Eller ruled that Richard Luman’s termination from the position of Mono County mechanic be overturned, and that he be reinstated with all the pay, benefits, and seniority of the position.
Judge Eller also ruled that the County must award Luman all back pay and benefits since his termination in 2011.
Luman was originally terminated because of three specific actions: fighting in the workplace, making a threat in the workplace, and making misleading comments about the meaning of his threat.
As the story goes, Luman got into a physical altercation with fellow employee Brett McCurry after making an incendiary comment to McCurry. According to Luman, this comment was a wisecrack, but according to the County, it was a threat.
Judge Eller ruled that the comment had indeed been a threat, but that the penalty of termination was “grossly excessive.”
Eller’s decision described Luman as “an older employee with many years of government service with no prior history of discipline whatsoever.
He has been characterized by supervisors as responsible, capable and trustworthy. He has been promoted to the highest level in his job classification … [and has] no history of violence in the workplace.”
In 2012, Luman challenged the County’s decision to terminate him before the Mono County Personnel Appeals Board (PAB). The PAB upheld the decision.
Meanwhile McCurry, who was fired at the same time as Luman, was reinstated as a County employee in August of 2012.
Luman appealed the PAB decision earlier this year, partly on the grounds that the decision was unfairly biased by some of the PAB members, including Sheriff Ralph Obenberger, whose department had investigated the altercation.
The appeal was held up by a change in judges, after Mono County Counsel’s office filed a motion to recuse the assigned judge in Luman’s case. That assigned judge, Judge James Garbolino, had recently ruled against the County in the Jon Madrid case, reinstating the Deputy Sheriff.
Judge Eller was ultimately assigned to the Luman appeal. In his April ruling, he determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove any PAB bias, which means that Luman will not collect attorney fees.
However, Luman will collect considerable back pay, plus interest, said PAB member and Mono County Supervisor Tim Hansen. Hansen was unequivocally satisfied with Judge Eller’s ruling.
“Mr. Luman’s case was never fair nor speedy, but I’m glad that justice has finally been done,” he said. “He was found guilty and forced to go years without any income, which probably was a very frustrating and sad experience for him, especially considering his years of service to the County.”
Hansen was the only dissenting voice in Luman’s PAB case in 2012. “Since I was the only dissenting opinion, other than my scraggly facial hair, I can look myself in the mirror,” he said.
Hansen said that he hopes this case, which is the third against Mono County in the last year to be found in favor of the Plaintiff (see the Jon Madrid and Youseff Boulaalam rulings), may act as a wake up call.
After all, he noted, “it’s Mono County taxpayers who end up paying for these bungled cases.”
“Looking at recent Mono County court cases, where evidence has been thrown out and the County has repeatedly been shown to be at fault, I’m hoping that this verdict, and the upcoming elections, will perhaps be a new dawn for Mono County,” Hansen said.
“This may sound corny,” he added, “but recently it dawned on me that twice in my life I’ve been sworn to uphold the constitution: once when entering the U.S. Army, and once when being sworn in as a Mono County Supervisor. Therefore, technically, I’m still under oath.
When voting in the upcoming elections, please try to vote for candidates who will take their oath of office seriously instead of routinely pissing on the constitution.”