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Fargo landfill worker appeals firing

A Fargo landfill worker is appealing the city's decision to fire him after he lost his commercial driver's license because of a DWI conviction. Darrel Rheault contends that his job duties don't require a CDL and that the city actually terminated ...

A Fargo landfill worker is appealing the city's decision to fire him after he lost his commercial driver's license because of a DWI conviction.

Darrel Rheault contends that his job duties don't require a CDL and that the city actually terminated him because he has experienced health problems in recent years and required disability-related accommodations.

In a legal brief filed with the city's Civil Service Commission, Rheault asks to be reinstated to his position within the Division of Solid Waste.

The commission was scheduled to hear his appeal today, but the hearing was rescheduled for Jan. 4 at the request of Assistant City Attorney Erik Johnson, said Fargo Human Resources Director Dana Sue Busch.

Rheault, a city employee since 1979, was fired Nov. 8 from his job as an equipment operator II, a position that requires a valid CDL.

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Rheault pleaded guilty in September to driving while intoxicated in Otter Tail County, Minn. He wasn't in a city vehicle or working in his capacity as a city employee when the incident occurred.

However, federal law requires that drivers convicted of a DWI lose their CDL for one year, even if the incident happened in a noncommercial vehicle.

Rheault did not return a phone message left Monday morning at his home in Vergas, Minn. Fargo attorney Robin A. Schmidt, who is representing Rheault, said she was not prepared to make statements about the appeal.

In the legal brief, Rheault contends that he hasn't operated heavy machinery that required a CDL since 1998.

He injured his back while throwing garbage into a truck in 1993 and became a scale operator at the landfill in 1994. When the scale operator position was eliminated in 1998, his job title changed to equipment operator I. But his back couldn't handle the stress of operating heavy equipment, so he returned to the job duties of a scale operator, the brief states.

"The City should not be allowed to discontinue this accommodation by terminating his employment under the ruse that it is justified by the loss of his (CDL)," the brief states.

Rheault was promoted to equipment operator II in May 1999. From 2000 through 2005, he used 1,630 hours of leave for various ailments and surgeries, the brief states.

City policy allows supervisors to discharge or demote employees who lose licenses required for their jobs.

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Even if Rheault was demoted to equipment operator I, he'd still need a valid CDL, Johnson said in a cover letter to the commission.

In the letter, Johnson said the city intends to establish that Rheault's discharge "was not motivated by political or other improper reasons."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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