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Civil Service Rules Prevented The Extension Of A Sheriff Deputy’s Probationary Period
Christopher Trejo began work as a deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (Department) in February 2014. Pursuant to the County’s Civil Service Rules (Rules), deputy sheriffs serve 12-month probationary periods before promotion into a permanent position, based on the employee’s performance of the essential duties of the position. The Rules also provide that a probationary period shall not last more than 12 months from the date of appointment. However, the County may stop the 12-month clock if the employee is absent from duty. The Rules allow the County to then recalculate the length of time remaining on probation “on the basis of actual service exclusive of the time away.” The Rules define “actual service” as “time engaged in the performance of the duties of a position or positions including absences with pay.”
In June 2014, the Department investigated whether Trejo violated the Department’s use-of-force policies. Pending the investigation, Trejo was relieved of duty and reassigned to administrative duties in the records unit. In this assignment, Trejo did not perform all of the essential duties of a deputy sheriff.
In August 2014, the Department extended Trejo’s probationary period because he was relieved of peace officer duties during the investigation. The Department informed Trejo that his probationary period would be recalculated upon his return to assigned duty as a deputy sheriff.
In January 2016, the Department released Trejo from probation. Although the Department’s letter informed Trejo of certain appeal rights, it did not notify Trejo of any rights to a Skelly hearing or other due process procedures because it did not consider Trejo to be a permanent employee. Following a name-clearing hearing, the Department issued a decision confirming Trejo’s termination.
Trejo filed a request for a hearing before the Civil Service Commission, asserting he was a permanent employee at the time of his termination. The Commission determined that Trejo’s petition was untimely and made no ruling on whether he was entitled to pre-termination rights.
Trejo then filed a petition for writ of mandate in superior court against the County, claiming that the Department unlawfully extended his probationary period. The trial court granted the petition and ordered the County to set aside Trejo’s dismissal on the grounds that he was a permanent employee entitled to pre-disciplinary rights.
The County appealed, claiming that the trial court: (i) relied on an erroneous interpretation of the Rules; and (ii) lacked jurisdiction because Trejo failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both counts.
First, the Court of Appeal examined the plain language of the Rules and held that the time Trejo spent on administrative duty in the records unit was “actual service,” and therefore, Trejo became a permanent employee 12 months after his probationary period began. The court stated that Trejo’s circumstances were different from those who are entirely relieved of duty and placed on paid administrative leave.
Second, the court concluded that Trejo did not fail to exhaust all administrative remedies available to him because the available grievance procedure excluded appeals of probation extensions, and claims regarding the interpretation of the Rules.
For these reasons, the court affirmed the trial court’s order to set aside Trejo’s dismissal. The court provided Trejo backpay from the date of his dismissal and all applicable pre-disciplinary rights as a permanent employee.
Trejo v. County of Los Angeles, 50 Cal.App.5th 129, 263 Cal.Rptr.3d 713 (2020).
Employers should closely review all applicable rules and procedures in determining whether an employee has achieved permanent status. Courts tend to narrowly interpret any rule that allows an employer to extend an employee’s probationary period.