Thursday, February 12, 2004
D.A. Office Investigators Lose Appeal of Ruling on Pension Benefits
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office investigators who cash out their accrued vacation time after retiring due to disability are not entitled to have those funds calculated as salary for pension purposes, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight sided with the county and the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association in rejecting claims by the union representing the investigators.
The Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers’ Association argued that refusing to credit the unused time violated a state law permitting public safety officers injured in the line of duty to take a leave of absence “without loss of salary” for up to one year in lieu of workers’ compensation benefits. They also claimed that it violated the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.
The claim was brought on behalf of retired investigators William Kupper and Bennie Layne, who left their jobs in 2000 after it was determined that their work-related disabilities had become permanent.
County ordinances allow certain employees, including district attorney investigators, to accumulate up to 320 hours of vacation time. If an employee has more than 320 hours accrued at the end of a year, the excess is cashed out at his or her pay rate, and the amount of the cash-out is treated as salary for pension purposes.
But another provision states that when a public safety employee exercises the right to paid disability leave, none of the vacation carryover provisions apply until a year after the employee returns to work. The county and LACERA have interpreted this to mean that if the employee retires without returning to work, all accrued vacation time will be cashed out but the amount of the cash-out will not be treated as salary for pension purposes.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe denied the union’s writ petition, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.
Justice Laurence Rubin, writing for Div. Eight, cited evidence that the policy and practice of the District Attorney’s Office was to compel its investigators and prosecutors to take vacation time rather than to allow their accrued time to exceed 320 hours. While exceptions were occasionally made where an employee was involved in a trial or other proceeding, the justice said, the number of investigators who received exceptions were small and the cash-out amounts were not excessive.
The buy-back policy, the jurist wrote, “did not grant appellants any rights but instead limited the amount of vacation time that could be accrued.”
In rejecting the equal protection argument, Rubin wrote:
“Cash-outs of unused excess vacation time at year’s end occur in only a very few exceptional cases. Granting Kupper and Layne such a cash-out simply because they might have fallen within that small, select group had they not been disabled would not cure discrimination against employees on disability leave-–it would grant those employees additional pension benefits to which nearly all of their non-disabled counterparts are not entitled.”
The case is Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers’ Association v. County of Los Angeles, B163710.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company