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Psychological Injuries From A Failure To Receive Promotion Were Not Related To Job Duties
In early 2010, the County of Los Angeles dissolved its Office of Public Safety and its functions were absorbed by the County’s Sheriff’s Department (Department). As part of the merger process, Edward Marquez, an officer in the Office of Public Safety, applied for a deputy sheriff position with the Department. In June 2010, Marquez was promoted on the condition that he pass a background check, medical and psychological examination, and polygraph interview. The Department’s psychologist concluded that Marquez was psychologically unfit to be a deputy sheriff and better suited for the position of custody assistant. The psychologist’s determination was based in part on her review of Marquez’s history of the discipline. That history included discipline related to a conviction for driving under the influence and pulling over his ex-girlfriend to issue a citation for personal reasons.
Marquez appealed his disqualification from the deputy sheriff position but accepted the custody assistant position in July 2010 while his appeal was pending. In September 2010, the County notified Marquez that his appeal had been denied. Ten days later, Marquez began a medical leave. Marquez never returned to work and never worked as a custody assistant.
In October 2010, Marquez filed a request for service-connected disability retirement with the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (Association) pursuant to Government Code section 31720. Marquez claimed he was permanently incapacitated for the positions of custody assistant and deputy sheriff based on psychiatric injuries caused by his “demotion” from deputy sheriff to custody assistant. Marquez’s injuries allegedly resulted in a chronic pain disorder and insomnia. Following multiple psychological assessments, the Association denied Marquez’s request and determined that he was not permanently incapacitated from the performance of his job duties. Marquez appealed the Association’s decision and requested an administrative hearing.
At the administrative hearing, the referee considered the results of Marquez’s psychological assessments and determined that Marquez was permanently incapacitated from performing his duties due to his psychological condition. The referee also determined that Marquez’s injuries arose out of employment because they related to his disqualification from the deputy sheriff position. However, the referee found that Marquez did not sustain the injuries “in the course and scope of employment” because they were not related to his performance of job duties and were instead related to the selection process for a possible promotion to a deputy sheriff. On these grounds, the referee recommended that the Association deny Marquez’s request for service-disability retirement and instead grant him a nonservice-connected disability retirement on the basis of psychological disability. The Association adopted the referee’s findings. Marquez filed a petition for writ of mandate, alleging that his psychological incapacity was service-connected.
The trial court ordered the Association grant Marquez’s request for service-connected disability retirement. The trial court found that Marquez’s psychological injury occurred in the course of his employment because he was required to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination as a condition of continued employment when the Office of Public Safety merged with the Department. The Association appealed. The California Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the trial court erred.
The Court of Appeal described the requirements for an employee to qualify for service-connected disability retirement under Government Code section 31720 as follows: “Marquez was required to establish that his incapacity is a result of injury or disease arising out of and in the course of the member’s employment, and such employment contributes substantially to such incapacity.” The Court of Appeal further noted that for an injury to occur “in the course of” employment, the employee must have been doing “those reasonable things which his … employment expressly or impliedly permits him to do.”
The Court of Appeal held that Marquez’s psychological injuries did not arise in the course of his employment because the connection between the Department’s decision not to promote Marquez and his subsequent disabling psychological condition was too attenuated. Although Marquez incurred psychological distress as a result of failing to receive a promotion to a deputy sheriff, the Court of Appeal noted that the decision not to promote and Marquez’s reaction to that decision did not occur in connection with Marquez’s job duties.
The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the matter back to the trial court. The Court of Appeal ordered that on remand the trial court should determine whether Marquez is entitled to service-connected disability retirement based on any other factors.
Marquez v. Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, 2020 WL 6882209 (2020).
This case is unpublished and therefore generally not citable. However, it is an important reminder that disability retirement cases are highly fact-specific. LCW attorneys specialize in advising public agencies regarding retirement law.