Court rules that firing was illegal

Court rules that firing was illegal by David Lias A former Clay County assessor who once worked for the South Dakota Department of Transportation was improperly fired by the state, according to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The high court unanimously ruled that the state Transportation Department improperly fired Gregory Wendell, who had worked acquiring rights of way for transportation projects.

Wendell was charged in February 1996 with sexual contact with a child younger than 16. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of contributing to the abuse of delinquency of a minor.

The DOT fired Wendell under a rule that says state employees can be disciplined for abusing an inmate, prisoner, resident or patient of an institution, a person in custody or "other persons."

The Career Service Commission upheld Wendell's dismissal, but Circuit Judge Eugene Martin of Huron said the firing was improper because the state rule did not allow such discipline for conduct unrelated to work.

Martin ordered the DOT to compensate Wendell for back wages, health insurance benefits and vacation time. The Supreme Court upheld the circuit judge's ruling.

The rule that allows employees to be disciplined for abusing "other persons" applies to conduct within the scope of employment, the high court said.

The rule does not allow discipline for such conduct that has no connection to a state worker's job, the justices said.

After being fired by the DOT, Wendell worked as Clay County assessor from June 2, 1997 to Aug. 26, 1998.

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