Friday, May 17, 2002
County Breached Agreement to Get Ex-MTA Officers New Jobs—C.A.
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A former Los Angeles police officer who took a job at the Metropolitan Transportation Agency but lost it when the Sheriff’s Department took over MTA patrol duties was improperly denied the opportunity to get a new county job, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
The 1997 agreement that abolished the MTA police force and contracted with the sheriff to patrol the various Metro light rails and buses gave Jack Herman the right to placement with either the county or the MTA when the sheriff rejected him, Div. Seven ruled Wednesday.
Sec. 2.1(A) of that contract states that MTA officers who elect to transfer to county employment and pass the sheriff’s personnel review process shall do so with no loss in rank or salary. For those who do not pass the sheriff’s process, it reads, “the parties shall meet and reach Mutual agreement on the placement of such personnel.
The county contended that the clause was not enforceable because it improperly promised employment. In an opinion by Justice Earl Johnson Jr., the court rejected the contention.
“Although the County is willing to jettison a five-year-old law enforcement contract with the MTA to avoid possibly having to give a job to one former MTA employee, the language of section 2.1(A) does not void the contract,” Johnson said.
The ruling reversed the Los Angeles Superior Court and ordered it to issue a writ of mandate directing the county to meet and confer with the MTA about finding a position for Herman.
Herman’s attorney, Richard J. Chiurazzi of the firm of Mastagni, Holstedt & Amick, praised the ruling.
He said his client had served as an LAPD officer for about 20 years, retired as a lieutenant and went to work for the new MTA police force for about five years. He said the MTA tried to terminate Herman on allegations of sexual harassment, and that an MTA official overruled a hearing officer who rejected firing as excessive and proceeded with the termination.
The matter was appealed to the Los Angeles Superior Court and settled, with lesser discipline imposed.
The MTA, which was created out of state legislation that joined two transit agencies, was financially overextended and began cutting its services in the mid-1990s, spinning off its police force to the sheriff and the LAPD. Under the county contract, a number of officers who served the MTA could not meet the sheriff’s background requirements.
Because of the harassment complaint and discipline, the county said, Herman was one of them.
But the county declined to seek another post for him under the terms of the contract.
“The County maintains it is ‘inconceivable’ it would have bound itself to hiring every MTA officer who did not pass the sheriff department’s screening process,” Johnson said. “This would commit it to hiring convicted felons, employees who lied on their job applications, undocumented aliens and the like. We are not impressed with this in terrorem argument. The record does not contain any evidence of the County’s employment standards for jobs other than deputy sheriff.”
“Assuming, however, convicted felons are ineligible for employment by the County generally the County has not shown convicted felons were eligible for employment as MTA police officers. Assuming still further an otherwise unemployable MTA police officer was inadvertently accepted into County employment the County would be free to apply the same termination policy to that person it applies to any other County employee.”
The case is Herman v. County of Los Angeles, B152534.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company