CalPERS Could Not Reinstate Previously Terminated Employee To A Higher Classification

Category: Fire Watch
Date: Aug 8, 2019 03:28 PM

Clare Byrd worked as an Administrative Analyst/Specialist at San Diego State University (“SDSU”), which is part of the California State University (“CSU”) system. In December 2014, after 14 years of employment, SDSU dismissed Byrd. Byrd subsequently filed a retirement application with CalPERS, and CalPERS accepted her application.

Byrd also filed an appeal with the State Personnel Board (“SPB”) to challenge her dismissal. Byrd and CSU ultimately agreed to settle the appeal. One provision of their settlement agreement directed CSU to reinstate Byrd to a higher classification, which Byrd had not previously held, and pay Byrd the higher salary associated with that classification while CSU applied for medical retirement benefits on Byrd’s behalf. The SPB approved the settlement agreement.

Following the settlement agreement, CalPERS refused to reinstate Byrd to the higher classification because Government Code section 21198, part of California’s retirement law, only authorized Byrd’s reinstatement to a job she previously held.

In light of CalPERS’ refusal to reinstate Byrd to the higher classification, the SPB issued a decision voiding its prior approval of the settlement agreement. Byrd then asked the superior court to compel CalPERS to reinstate her to the higher position. The trial court denied Byrd’s request, and Byrd appealed.

On appeal, the court considered whether Government Code section 21198 prevented CalPERS from reinstating Byrd to a classification she had not previously held. In pertinent part, section 21198 reads, “[a] person who has been retired under this system for service following an involuntary termination of … employment, and who is subsequently reinstated to that employment . . .  shall be reinstated from retirement.” The court, relying on the plain meaning of the statute, determined that the term “reinstate” means that the employee is returning to the specific, previously-held position or classification.

The court noted that while a reinstatement to a different classification at a higher salary level could be consistent with section 21198 if the different classification had some connection to the underlying dispute, Byrd alleged no such connection in this case. Instead, the court reasoned that Byrd’s reinstatement to the different classification was merely part of a package of benefits CSU had offered in exchange for the promises it received from Byrd in the settlement agreement. Therefore, the court found that section 21198 prevented CalPERS from complying with the settlement agreement’s directive that Byrd is reinstated to different job classification.

Byrd v. State Personnel Board, 36 Cal.App.5th 899 (2019).

Note:

This case illustrates the complexities of California’s retirement law. Public agencies should ensure they are not reinstating an employee to a different classification as part of a settlement agreement if the classification has no connection to the underlying dispute.

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