Civil service commissions handle employee discharge appeals in most California counties and many cities. A recent case from the Second Appellate District, Deiro v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, clarified the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission when an employee is both discharged and takes disability retirement.
The plaintiff in Diero was a deputy sheriff injured on duty in 2012. In 2015, he applied to LACERA for service-connected disability retirement. Shortly after his application was granted, but before his retirement began, the Sheriff’s Department discharged the deputy for bad conduct. The deputy appealed to the Commission, but also began his disability retirement. Although the plaintiff had retired, overturning the discharge decision would have had a measurable impact on his retirement based on seniority credits and salary increases. After several years, the hearing officer proposed plaintiff’s discharge be reduced to a suspension. Just before the Commission adopted the recommendation, the Sheriff’s Department moved to dismiss because the Commission lacked jurisdiction over a retired deputy. The Commission agreed and dismissed the administrative appeal.
The Second Appellate District opinion focused primarily on three cases: Zuniga v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Com. (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 1255, County of Los Angeles Dept. of Health Services v. Civil Service Com. of County of Los Angeles (Latham) (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 391, and Hudson v. County of Los Angeles (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 392. Zuniga and Latham set a bright line rule, based on the Commission’s jurisdiction in the Los Angeles County Charter and Civil Service Rules, that when an employee retires during the pendency of a civil service appeal, her future status as an employee is by definition no longer at issue and the commission lacks jurisdiction to hear a wage claim brought by a former civil servant.
Plaintiff, however, argued that Hudson established a broad exception, that the Commission retains jurisdiction when an employee takes disability retirement while appealing his discharge. The Second Appellate District disagreed. Explaining the “egregious circumstances permeating” the Hudson case, the Court highlighted that the Hudson plaintiff had contested both her discharge and the finding of permanent disability, fought to return to work, and was ultimately successful. Conversely, there was no indication that the Diero plaintiff would return to work, and therefore no reason to deviate from the Zuniga/Latham rule.
Civil service commission jurisdictional requirements are unique, and may be broader or narrower than the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. However, Diero affirms that jurisdictional issues should be addressed early before the civil service commission, to avoid lengthy and unnecessary administrative appeals.