Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sacramento County LEMA Vindicates Right to Investigate and File Grievances Without Fear of Retaliation

Sacramento County Law Enforcement Managers Association (LEMA) President Michael Ziegler obtained a settlement protecting the right of union officers to investigate and pursue unpopular grievances in his lawsuit against former-Sheriff John McGinness and the County of Sacramento.

In March 2010, Ziegler filed a grievance on behalf of himself, LEMA, and LEMA’s members alleging violations of Sheriff’s Office policies relating to the handling of FEO files of a LEMA member running for sheriff. On the same day Ziegler appealed the denial of the grievance, it served Ziegler with a notice of interrogation. The notice said Ziegler was “suspected of misconduct” and indicated that the interrogation was related to Ziegler’s communications with a witness during his investigation of LEMA’s grievance. Between April 2010 and August 2010, Ziegler received three more notices of interrogation. Ziegler objected to the investigation.

All four notices told Ziegler he was prohibited from discussing the matter with anyone other than his representative. As a result, Ziegler was prohibited from discussing the substance of the investigation with LEMA’s board of director or members. Ziegler submitted to interrogation on August 18, 2010 under threat of discipline for insubordination.

Ziegler filed a petition for writ of mandate against the County of Sacramento and then-Sheriff John McGinness on August 10, 2010.   Ziegler’s petition alleges the County violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act by opening a retaliatory investigation against Ziegler for his efforts to investigate the improper handling of LEMA member’s personnel records. Ziegler also claimed the Sheriff’s actions impermissibly interfered with his representation of his members. The petition sought, among other things, a writ compelling the County to cease and desist from unlawfully retaliating against Ziegler and expunge all records of its investigation of Ziegler and a determination that the County willfully and maliciously violated the MMBA.

With encouragement from the Court, the parties participated in mediation and reached a global resolution of the suit. Under the settlement all references to the disciplinary investigation of Ziegler will be removed from his files and the County paid all mediation costs and Ziegler’s attorney fees for the mediation. The County is also required to email every member of LEMA a copy of the agreement, which includes the County’s acknowledgement that (1) “The investigation of an employee representative over engaging in concerted labor activity, including but not limited to the investigation of a potential grievance or the filing of a grievance is unlawful” and (2) “Employee representatives shall not be subject to the threat of discipline for exercising rights under the MMBA or any grievance process.”

Mastagni Law attorneys David E. Mastagni and Isaac S. Stevens represented LEMA President Mike Ziegler is the matter.