Court Affirms Trial Court Decision That DOJ Cannot Condition Reinstatement From Disability Retirement on Background and Medical Exam
LOS ANGELES -On October 13, 2015, the California Court of Appeal Second District affirmed the prior rulings of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the State Personnel Board (SPB) and the CalPERS Board, holding that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot condition reinstatement of a Peace Officer on POST requirements once CalPERS reinstates that individual to full duty.
"This was a long legal battle for California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) Member and DOJ Special Agent Supervisor Angie Resendez," said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "We stood by her and fought this fight for more than five years. Despite appeal after appeal by DOJ, the rulings have been in her favor and finally she may have her job back and be reimbursed for lost wages."
Special Agent Supervisor Resendez retired from State service in December 2008 due to a work related injury. In September 2009, Resendez applied to CalPERS for reinstatement. In February 2010, based on her doctor's determination she was able to return to duty, Resendez was granted reinstatement from CalPERS. She notified DOJ that she wished to return and was told that she would have to go through a complete background investigation and successfully pass both medical and psychological examinations as if she were a new applicant for the position she previously occupied. This requirement violated both retirement law and SPB precedent.
CSLEA successfully represented Ms. Resendez before both the CalPERS and State Personnel Boards. Unsatisfied with the administrative rulings, DOJ brought the matter to Superior Court, and ultimately to the Court of Appeal, in an attempt to reverse both decisions. In May 2014, the Superior Court issued its ruling validating CSLEA's position that once CalPERS clears a formerly disabled employee for return to duty, the State has a mandatory duty to reinstate that person and cannot condition reinstatement as if the employee were a new hire. In October 2015, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, ordering Resendez returned to her duties. The Court also awarded back pay with interest retroactive to February 2010.
"I am extremely pleased with the appellate court's decision. It just proves if you persevere, remain patient and stay focused, justice will prevail," said Resendez. "I received outstanding service by CSLEA attorneys Jim Vitko and Erin Eckelman-Ray. They were dedicated, thorough, professional and determined to seek justice."
Defending the rights of CSLEA members is a mighty, behind the scenes force that CSLEA prides itself in.
"CSLEA vigorously safeguards its members' right of reinstatement without unlawful restriction," said CSLEA Chief Counsel Kasey Clark. "On more than one occasion, our legal division has demonstrated it will take the battle through the appellate courts if necessary. If publication of the Resendez decision is achieved, there will be another successful decision in addition to Hulings v State of California to provide agencies guidance on their legal obligations in this area."
The CSLEA Legal Division will be seeking publication of the appellate court decision which can be viewed here.