Court orders fired McHenry Co. deputy reinstated

A veteran McHenry County sheriff's deputy fired in 2007 after repeatedly failing a physical fitness test could soon be back on the force despite Sheriff Keith Nygren's objections.

In a nonpublished ruling released only to attorneys, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court last week upheld a McHenry County judge's decision finding Deputy Robert Schlenkert's firing inappropriate and ordering him back to work.

Nygren said Monday he had not yet read the decision and therefore could not comment on it, but he said, "I suspect that we're going to get him back." He declined to comment on what role Schlenkert would serve if reinstated.

Schlenkert attotney Gary Bailey said his client looks forward to being back on the job after the court issues a mandate on its decision in about two weeks.

"As far as we're concerned, we're ready to go now," he said. "But if they want to wait, we'll wait."

The ruling appears to end a two-year legal battle over whether Nygren could order a longtime deputy to go through a second round of basic training and fire him if he flunked it.

Court records show Schlenkert, a 17-year veteran, was placed on involuntary leave in 2005 to deal with psychological issues. Doctors cleared him to return to work about 19 months later, but Nygren first ordered him to go through the state police academy in Champaign.

Schlenkert, however, did not graduate from the academy because he failed four attempts to pass a mandatory physical fitness exam that measures, among other things, maximum bench press, flexibility and the time a candidate needs to run 1.5 miles.

Nygren acted to have Schlenkert fired for refusing to follow a direct order, a move made official in December 2007 by the sheriff's Merit Commission.

Schlenkert sued for his job back, and in December 2008 McHenry County Judge Maureen McIntyre gave it to him. In her ruling, McIntyre found that the fitness exam was not an essential part of retraining.

"There is no indication in the record that Deputy Schlenkert is unable to adequately fulfill his duties as a law enforcement officer," McIntyre ruled. "His discharge was not based on substantial misconduct or insubordination."

Besides suing to get his job back, Schlenkert is suing Nygren for wrongful termination, claiming the real reason for his dismissal was his diagnosis with panic disorder. The suit seeks at least $50,000 in damages.

Schlenkert also served as campaign chairman for Zane Seipler, another fired deputy who unsuccessfully challenged Nygren this year for the Republican Party sheriff's nomination.