An arbitrator wrongfully reinstated a state prison warden who was fired for sending sexually explicit e-mails to employees and lashing out at others, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) acted within its rights in firing Steve Hammer in 2016, the court said in a decision filed Monday.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Hammer’s attorney, Gregg Corwin.
Corwin criticized the court for reviewing DOC evidence in the case, saying the decision should have been based solely on a review of the findings by arbitrator Arthur McCoy.
Hammer was fired when a DOC investigation found that he used work e-mail to send sexually explicit messages, inappropriately commented about an intern and verbally abused employees.
Hammer, who first joined the Minnesota prison system in 1991, was warden of the Stillwater prison at the time.
Hammer appealed his firing to the Bureau of Mediation Services, and McCoy wrote in October 2017 that the e-mails appeared to be sent to people who “welcomed the sexual banter and participated fully in it.” They were not sexual harassment or discrimination, McCoy wrote.
McCoy ordered that Hammer be reinstated, but that was put on hold pending the Court of Appeals decision, Corwin said, adding that Hammer was not paid in the interim.
The Court of Appeals decided that Hammer violated the DOC’s personnel-files and electronic-communications policies.
Hammer also used work e-mail to discuss nonpublic data with others who were not the employees in question — an employee’s possible suspension, an employee’s plan to cancel a vacation and the firing of an employee likely because of alcohol use.
“Hammer’s electronic-communications violation involved inappropriate use because it included illegal activity,” the court said. “Thus, the DOC was not required to impose progressive discipline when the DOC policy allows for discharge.”
Corwin said Hammer is considering whether to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to appeal Monday’s ruling.
“The problem is, he already spent a fortune” on legal expenses, Corwin said. “Most people spend all this money on these cases more for their reputation, and they’re trying to correct the record and make it accurately reflect what their career has been about. I think it’s more about that than getting his job back.”