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Alameda County Management Employees Association, et al v. Superior Court of Alameda County

March 7, 2011


(Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG09464432) Trial court: Alameda County Superior Court Trial judge: Hon. Robert M. Maldonado

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Needham, J.


Facing a multi-million dollar budget reduction for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the Superior Court of Alameda County (the Court) implemented a reduction in force. Among those laid off were a number of members of appellant Alameda County Management Employees Association (ACMEA), a labor organization representing certain Court employees in managerial classifications. After being notified of the impending action, a number of ACMEA members selected for layoff invoked the seniority provisions of the Court's personnel policies and requested demotions or transfers to lower paying classifications in which they had previously held tenure. Although these employees' seniority would have entitled them to demotions under the Court's personnel policies, in all but two instances, the Court denied their requests, citing the definition of seniority contained in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) it had negotiated with another union. The Court determined that the seniority definition contained in the MOU applied to ACMEA's members and that under that definition, they could not exercise the demotion rights they would otherwise have enjoyed under the Court's personnel policies. In addition, the laid-off ACMEA members requested due process hearings in front of a hearing officer, believing that their layoffs were disciplinary in character. The Court denied those requests also.

ACMEA and the employees later filed a petition for writ of mandate, alleging that the Court had violated the provisions of the Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act (Act; Gov. Code, § 71600 et seq.)*fn2 by failing to meet and confer with ACMEA before changing the seniority and demotion rights of its members. They also claimed the Court had violated its own policies and rules by refusing to grant the requests to demote in lieu of layoff. Finally, they alleged the Court had violated their due process rights under the federal and California Constitutions by failing to accord them due process hearings. The petition was heard under the special provisions of the Act, and after hearing, the trial judge denied the petition.*fn3

ACMEA now appeals from that adverse judgment. We agree with ACMEA that the Court's actions violated the Act and the Court's own policies and rules. We disagree that the Court denied the laid-off employees due process. Accordingly, we will reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings.


ACMEA contends the Court violated the provisions of the Act by changing its members' seniority rights without first meeting and conferring with their union. (See § 71634.2, subd. (a).) To our knowledge, only one other California appellate court has construed the Act. (OCEA, supra, 120 Cal.App.4th 287.) We will therefore briefly review its origins and the relevant provisions of the Act before turning to the merits of the case before us.

Origins of the Act

The Trial Court Funding and Improvement Act of 1997 established a Task Force on Trial Court Employees (the Task Force) "charged with recommending an appropriate system of employment and governance for trial court employees." (See Stats. 1997, ch. 850, § 48, p. 6009, codified at § 77600 et seq.) The Legislature's stated goal was "to adopt a plan to transition all existing court employees into an appropriate employment status" by January 1, 2001. (Stats. 1997, ch. 850, § 3(g)(2), p. 5970.) It also wished to consider "a mechanism for involvement of the local judiciary in the negotiations regarding compensation of court employees." (Stats. 1997, ch. 850, § 3(g)(3), p. 5970.)

The Legislature directed the Task Force to study a number of components of personnel policy, including such issues as employment status, classification, and salary; retirement and other benefits; and bargaining procedures and agreements. (§ 77603, subds. (a)-(e).) In addition, the Task Force was directed to examine and outline issues for establishing a local personnel structure for trial court employees and then to recommend such a structure. (§ 77603, subds. (g), (i).) The Legislature's intent was to enact a personnel system for trial court employees that would have "uniform statewide applicability and promote organizational and operational flexibility . . . ." (§ 77605, subd. (a).)

In its final report, the Task Force made recommendations regarding the components of a personnel system for trial court employees. (See Task Force on Trial Court Employees (Dec. 31, 1999) Final Report, pp. 63-201 (Final Report).) Relevant here is the Task Force's recommendation for a meet and confer model under which representatives of the trial courts and representatives of recognized employee organizations "shall meet and confer and be authorized to reach tentative agreement regarding all subjects within the scope of representation on behalf of their respective principals." (Id. at p. 84, ¶ VI.) The Task Force recommended meet-and-confer provisions for the new Act based on the language of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA; §§ 3500-3511). (Final Report, at p. 84, ¶ II.)

The Legislature responded to the Task Force recommendations with Senate Bill No. 2140. (Sen. Bill No. 2140 (1999-2000 Reg. Sess.) § 14.) Senate Bill No. 2140 embraced the recommendations by adopting "a mechanism for setting the terms and conditions of trial court employment, incorporating various provisions of the [MMBA]; [and by] provid[ing] that recognized employee organizations and court representatives shall utilize the 'meet and confer' process . . . ." (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, 3d reading analysis of Sen. Bill No. 2140 (1999-2000 Reg. Sess.) as amended August 25, 2000, p. 1; Assem. Com. on Judiciary, Rep. on Sen. Bill No. 2140 (1999-2000 Reg. Sess.) as amended Apr. 5, 2000, p. 1.) The Act was signed into law on September 29, 2000 and became effective on January 1, 2004. (§§ 71600 et seq., Stats. 2000, ch. 1010, § 14, p. 7356; § 71615, subd. (a).)

Labor Relations Under the Act

The provisions of the Act governing labor relations are found in Title 8, Chapter 7, Article 3 of the Government Code. One purpose of the statute is "to promote full communication between trial courts and their employees by providing a reasonable method for resolving disputes regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment between trial courts and recognized employee organizations."*fn4 (§ 71630, subd. (a).) Another stated purpose of this article is "to extend to trial court employees the right, and to require trial courts, to meet and confer in good faith over matters within the scope of representation, consistent with the procedures set forth in this article." (Ibid.)

The Act therefore guarantees trial court employees "the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of employee organizations of their own choosing for the purpose of representation on all matters of employer-employee relations." (§ 71631.) Recognized employee organizations, in turn, are empowered to represent their members in employment relations with trial courts as to the matters covered by the Act. (§ 71633.) Under the Act, the scope of representation includes "all matters relating to employment conditions and employer-employee relations, including, but not limited to, wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment." (§ 71634, subd. (a).)

Trial courts are therefore required to meet and confer in good faith with representatives of recognized employee organizations regarding matters within the scope of representation. (§ 71634.2, subd. (a).) The Act mandates that trial courts "consider fully the presentations as are made by the recognized employee organization on behalf of its members prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action." (Ibid.) If the trial court and the employee organization reach agreement, they must prepare a written MOU and present it to the trial court for determination. (§ 71634.3.) If the trial court adopts the MOU, the written agreement becomes "binding upon the parties." (§ 71639.5, subd. (a).)

Transitional Provisions

Unless expressly provided by the statute, the enactment of the Act did not itself require "modification or elimination of any existing . . . terms and conditions of employment of trial court employees." (§ 71612.) Save for minimum standards prescribed by the Act, however, the statute permits the elimination or modification of pre-existing terms and conditions of employment "through the meet and confer in good faith process." (Ibid.) In establishing local personnel structures for their employees, trial courts are required to give consideration to "protecting the rights accrued by trial court employees under their current systems," but the Act permits reconsideration of prior contractual obligations and rights, again subject to obligation to meet and confer in good faith. (§ 71615, subd. (d).)


The facts of this case are undisputed. In the court below, the parties filed joint stipulations regarding the facts and the procedures governing the conduct of the litigation. The parties specifically agreed their stipulations "contain[ed] all material facts upon which the parties . . . intend to rely in the merits phase of this litigation." We therefore take our factual statement from these stipulations and their attached exhibits.

The Parties

ACMEA is a labor organization and is the certified bargaining representative of various Court employees holding certain managerial, supervisory, and administrative positions. The employee classifications represented by ACMEA are listed in Appendix A to the most recent MOU between ACMEA and the Court. The Court has recognized ACMEA as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees in those classifications. ACMEA qualifies as an "employee organization" within the meaning of section 71601, subdivision (b).

Petitioners Bridget Conner, Donna Fabian, Linda Fisher, Sylvia Gee, Dena Gomez, Danith Kincaid, Alina Mateo, Denise Martinez, Rosalina Neeley, Nikki Riley, Carla Schengel, Alisa Taylor, and Deborah Williams (collectively "the Individual Petitioners") are individuals who were at all relevant times employees of the Court. The Individual Petitioners are "trial court employees" within the meaning of section 71601, subdivision (l) and were members of the bargaining unit represented by ACMEA.

The Court is a superior court of the State of California and is a "trial court" within the meaning of section 71601, subdivision (k).

Relevant Personnel Policies and Agreements

Effective November 15, 2001, the Court promulgated a set of personnel organization policies and rules (the Personnel Policies) after meeting, conferring, and reaching agreement on the content of these policies and rules with ACMEA and other labor organizations representing Court employees. The Court later amended and repromulgated the Personnel Policies effective March 14, 2003, April 12, 2006, and again in May of 2008.*fn5 Since May 2008, the Court has not promulgated any amendments to, or new versions of, its Personnel Policies. The Personnel Policies contain a preface that states in relevant part: "The policies and rules contained in this manual apply to employees in represented and unrepresented court classifications . . . . [¶] . . . [¶] Where these policies conflict with provisions of a memorandum of understanding between the Court and a recognized employee organization, the MOU provisions will govern as to employees occupying positions in classifications covered by the MOU."

In accordance with section 7.1 of the Personnel Policies, the Court promulgated a "Layoff Policy" that became effective May 14, 2003. The Layoff Policy has not been amended or repromulgated since that time, and no other layoff instructions have been issued. Section X of the Layoff Policy is entitled "Layoff Options & Displacement ('Bumping') Rights."*fn6 It provides that "[i]n the event of a layoff, an employee in a classification affected by a reduction in force shall have the following options: [¶] * Elect to demote to a lower paying class, if the employee previously held tenure in the lower paying class . . . ." This language is similar to section 7.1.2 of the Personnel Policies, under which "[a]n employee in a classification affected by a reduction in force may, in lieu of layoff, elect to demote to a lower paying classification, provided that such employee held tenure in the lower paying classification."

ACMEA and the Court negotiated an MOU in 2008. This MOU is effective between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 (SEIU) represents Court employees holding jobs in the classifications of administrative services clerk, fiscal assistant, trial court financial hearing officer, legal processing assistant, and courtroom clerk. The Court and SEIU have negotiated an MOU regarding conditions of employment that is effective from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2011 (the SEIU MOU). The Court and SEIU entered into the SEIU MOU without providing any notice to ACMEA and without providing ACMEA the opportunity to meet and confer over any part of the agreement's contents.

The SEIU MOU includes new language that had not been in any prior MOU. Section 30, entitled "Seniority," states: "Seniority Defined: Except for layoff and recall which utilize classification seniority, seniority shall be measured by hours worked (paid status) using the total service for the Court or the Court and Alameda County if the employee has worked in a classification assigned to the Court prior to January 1, 2001." Section 30(C)(4) also includes new language providing that "Seniority shall be terminated by; [¶] . . . Failure beyond six (6) months to return from a non bargaining unit position[.]"

The June 2009 Layoffs

For the 2009-2010 year, the Court experienced a reduction in budget of approximately $5,944,151. Effective June 26, 2009, the Court implemented a significant reduction in force. It laid off 72 employees, including 37 employees in the SEIU bargaining unit and 28 in the ACMEA bargaining unit, as well as seven unrepresented employees. The individuals selected for layoff from ACMEA positions, including the Individual Petitioners, were those with the least Court-wide seniority in the classifications selected for layoff, as provided in Section 7.1 of the Court's Personnel Policies.

The Court issued layoff notices to all of the Individual Petitioners. As required by Section 10 of the ACMEA MOU, both ACMEA and the Individual Petitioners received sufficient advance notice of the layoffs. Each Individual Petitioner advised of her impending layoff was informed that, "[i]f you think that the Court has incorrectly determined to layoff your position, you may within three (3) working days from receipt of this notice, submit an explanation in writing to the Assistant Executive Officer . . . ." None of the Individual Petitioners made any substantive challenge to the accuracy of the Court's calculations regarding the number of years of Court-wide seniority they held.

But for any effect of the SEIU MOU - which the parties to this appeal dispute - Individual Petitioners Gomez, Kincaid, Martinez, Mateo, Neeley, Riley, Schengel, Taylor, and Williams would have been entitled, under the terms of the Court's Personnel Policies, to transfers or demotions to classifications in which they had previously held tenure in the SEIU bargaining unit, to the extent that those positions are currently filled by less senior employees. The aforementioned employees notified the Court that they wished to transfer or demote to classifications in the SEIU bargaining unit in which they had previously held tenure. The Court did not demote these employees as they requested, on the grounds that they had been out of the SEIU bargaining unit for more than six months, and instead laid them off. The Court maintains that these employees do not have the right to be placed on a re-employment list for classifications in which they previously held tenure within the SEIU bargaining unit, because, as of the date of their layoffs, they had been out of the SEIU bargaining unit for more than six months.

Reclassification of the "Secretary II" Position

At the time of court consolidation,*fn7 a classification consultant was retained to conduct a job audit of all Court employees who held the "Secretary II" classification. Based on the results of this audit, each individual who held the Secretary II position was reclassified into one of three possible classifications, depending upon the specific job duties that he or she was actually performing at the time. Those three classifications were: (1) "Division Assistant," (2) "Division Secretary, Confidential," and (3) "Senior Division Secretary, Confidential." All of these titles have been within the bargaining unit represented by ACMEA and have never been within the bargaining unit represented by SEIU.

As a result of this reclassification process, Fabian's title changed from Secretary II to Division Assistant, without any material change in the job functions she was performing. Fabian continued to hold the position of Division Assistant at the time of the 2009 layoffs. In lieu of layoff, Fabian requested to demote or transfer to the classification of Division Secretary, Confidential. The Court denied the request and did not demote Fabian, stating that she had never held tenure in the Division Secretary, ...

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