Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Court of Appeal Panel Upholds County Effort to Block Lawyers From Cashing Out Vacation Time
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Unionized lawyers working for Sacramento County’s district attorney and public defender may be forced to take accrued vacation time rather than be paid for unused leave, even though their unrepresented counterparts in the County Counsel’s Office are under no such compulsion, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Citing a Court of Appeal decision earlier this year in a case involving Los Angeles County district attorney’s investigators, the Div. Two panel upheld a Solano Superior Court judge’s denial of a writ of mandate sought by the Sacramento County Attorneys Association.
The SCAA represents deputy district attorneys, deputy public defenders, and enforcement attorneys for the Department of Child Support Services. Deputy county counsels have no union, but are guaranteed certain benefits by the county personnel ordinance.
One provision of that ordinance allows the county counsel to determine when deputies may take vacation, subject to a limit of 400 hours of accrued vacation time, after which any additional time is cashed out.
The five-year labor agreement between the county and SCAA, signed in December 2001, contains a similar vacation provision, including the 400-hour limit and cash-out of excess time. It also includes a clause allowing the employer to “place reasonable seasonal or other restrictions on the use of accrued vacation.”
The agreement also has a provision requiring the county to provide SCAA-represented lawyers with any benefits extended to deputy county counsels.
In October 2002, the SCAA brought a labor grievance, charging the district attorney and public defender with violating the agreement by forcing attorneys who were approaching 400 hours of accrued vacation to schedule time off so that the offices would not have to tap their budgets for cash payouts.
The County Office of Labor Relations rejected the grievance. The fact that the county counsel chose not to force vacation time, even though the personnel ordinance allowed him to do so, did not mean that lawyers in that office were receiving a benefit not available to those represented by the union, the OLR ruled.
The judge hearing the union’s petition for writ of mandate agreed, as did Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline, writing for the Court of Appeal in an unpublished opinion.
Kline cited Los Angeles County Prof. Peace Officers’ Assn. v. County of Los Angeles (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 866, a case decided in February by this district’s Div. Eight.
The court held that district attorney investigators who retired due to disability were not entitled to treat the resulting cash-out as salary for pension calculation purposes. It rejected the argument that the affected employees were being denied their right to cash out vacation time in excess of the 320-hour limit under county ordinance, treating the cash-out as salary for pension purposes.
The court noted that the policy of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s was, except in unusual cases, to require employees to take vacation time rather than exceed the 320-hour limit. Thus the retired investigators were not being denied a benefit generally available to their former colleagues who were still working, the court said.
“In the present case, while the cash-out provision prevents the County from instituting a ‘use it or lose it’ vacation policy for vacation balances in excess of 400 hours without officially changing the rules with respect to all County attorneys, it certainly may inform particular employees of the need to use future vacation hours so that their vacation leave balances will not exceed 400 hours.”
The case is Sacramento County Attorneys Association v. County of Sacramento, A104157.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company