Friday, June 22, 2007
County Worker Cannot Appeal ‘Constructive’ Demotion—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles County employee cannot bring a civil service appeal as a result of a “constructive” or “de facto” demotion, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Four agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe that an employee whose title and salary were unchanged, and who continued to report to the same supervisor, could not ask the Civil Service Commission for a remedy as a result of a change in her job duties.
The petitioner, Margaret Berumen, has worked for the Department of Health Services since 1979 and was promoted to hospital administrator I at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in 1995, reporting to the Chief Financial Officer.
In September 2000, Berumen filed a claim with the Civil Service Commission, alleging, among other things, that she had been constructively demoted as a result of a reorganization initiated by the hospital’s chief executive officer. She claimed that while her classification was unchanged, many of her responsibilities had been reassigned to other workers.
A hearing officer, after nine days of testimony, concluded that Berumen had not been “reduced in pay, grade or rank,” and thus had been reassigned, rather than demoted, and was not entitled to seek a remedy from the commission.
The commission agreed, holding that in the absence of invidious discrimination, “the Commission lacks jurisdiction to make a finding of a de facto demotion or to order a remedy for a de facto demotion.”
In petitioning for a writ of mandate, Berumen argued that under the commission’s ruling, the department could “instruct her to clean the toilets, vacuum the carpets, and take out the trash” and she would be powerless to complain “so long as she retain[s] the same title and receive[s] the same wage.”
Yaffe sided with the commission, saying that Berumen’s claim “has no merit because the civil service rules plainly do not give [her] any right to oppose before the Civil Service Commission a change in the duties that are assigned to her if she is not demoted or suspended or fired and if her compensation is not reduced.” The judge denied her petition.
Justice Thomas Willhite, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with Yaffe.
The justice explained that the authority of the commission to remedy an alleged civil service violation is limited to that set forth in the county charter and civil service rules.
In Los Angeles County, Willhite said, the rules permit an appeal from a demotion, defined as “a lowering of rank or grade,” while specifying that “[t]he assignment of an employee from one position to another, within the class and department for which the . . . employee has been certified by the director of personnel . . . is a matter of departmental administration.”
The civil service rules, the jurist went on to say, do provide a remedy for an employee in Berumen’s situation. He cited Rule 15.04, which provides: “An employee may appeal an assignment, interdepartmental transfer or change in classification to the director of personnel,” a step the petitioner apparently did not take.
The case is Berumen v. County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services, B189886.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company