Monday, June 30, 2003
Court of Appeal Sides With ALJs in Dispute With State Employee Unions Over Discipline Process
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The union representing California administrative law judges claimed victory in the Third District Court of Appeal Friday in an unusual dispute with other state employee groups over disciplinary procedures.
The Association of California State Attorneys and Administrative Law Judges had joined forces with the State Personnel Board, which challenged provisions in collective bargaining MOUs for four units of state employees.
The personnel board objected to procedures it claimed deprived it of final authority over employee discipline. The ALJs, who hear personnel disputes and make findings and recommendations subject to review by the SPB, claim the procedures illegally contracted out work that is required to be performed by ALJs.
The procedures give employees facing certain types of discipline the option of presenting a grievance to a Board of Adjustment made up of two members appointed by the union and two members appointed by the state, or of appealing to the SPB. If a grievance cannot be resolved by the BOA, arbitration is called for.
Decisions of the BOA are subject to approval by the SPB—which in light of its objection to the procedure has not approved any such action—but there is no administrative hearing and the SPB’s role is limited to approval or rejection. If the case goes to arbitration, the result is final and binding, subject to limited judicial review.
Two Sacramento Superior Court judges sided with the SPB and the ALJs in their challenge to the procedures. Another judge denied a writ sought by the SPB, but solely on standing grounds. Appeals from the three rulings were consolidated.
In an opinion by Justice Coleman Blease, the court held that the personnel board “has standing to challenge an MOU which precludes it from carrying out its constitutionally mandated duty to review disciplinary actions.” The justices also held that the MOUs, and the state legislation purporting to authorize the inclusion of the objected-to provisions, restrict the SPB’s authority in ways not permitted by the state Constitution.
Blease rejected the contention that the legislation and the MOUs did not deprive the SPB of its authority to “review disciplinary actions,” since an employee may still elect to file an SPB appeal rather than pursue a grievance, and because decisions reached by the BOA are subject to review by the SPB.
“When considered in the light of its historical context and the constitutional mandate that the civil service system be based upon merit, the term ‘review’ must be construed to refer to an adjudicatory function rather than a limited appellate function over an adjudicatory procedure vested in some other body,” Blease wrote. “To hold otherwise would severely restrict and undermine SPB’s ability to enforce the merit principle by insulating agency disciplinary decisions from de novo review.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company