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Ko v. City of La Habra

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 30, 2017

JEONG KO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LA HABRA; A PUBLIC ENTITY; and DOES 1 THROUGH 10, INCLUSIVE, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          PATRICK J. WALSH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I.

         INTRODUCTION

         This is an employment action by a now-former La Habra Police Officer who claims that the City of La Habra violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq., by not awarding him annual merit-based pay increases during the 17 months that he was deployed in Afghanistan. The City argues that Plaintiff was not entitled to these step increases because they are merit based and Plaintiff did not and could not have earned them while he was deployed. For the following reasons, the Court concludes that it is reasonably certain that Plaintiff would have earned these merit based step increases had he not been deployed and awards him back pay of $22, 457.09 and appropriate equitable relief.

         II.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. In 1998, after graduating from high school, Plaintiff joined the Army and later became a member of the Army Reserves.

         2. In August 2006, after completing the police academy, Plaintiff was hired as a probationary police officer by the City of La Habra. The La Habra Police Department requires probationary officers to complete a one-year probationary period. The one-year probationary term can be extended if the Department believes that an officer's performance is deficient.

         3. Probationary officers are hired at salary Step A. The Department evaluates them six months after they are hired to determine if they are entitled to a merit pay step increase-to Step "B"-based on their performance in the first six months. If so, they receive a raise. If not, they can be terminated or can be granted additional time to improve their performance. The La Habra Police Department evaluates probationary officers again six months later, at their one-year anniversary, to determine if they have satisfactorily completed probation. If so, a probationary officer becomes a permanent police officer.

         4. An officer's performance evaluation is conducted by his or her supervisor. The supervisor is called upon to rate the officer in categories and provide an overall rating. The Department uses five classifications to rate officers: Outstanding, Exceeds Standards, Meets Standards, Improvement Needed, and Unacceptable.

         5. Plaintiffs performance was formally evaluated after six months on the job and he received an overall rating of "needs improvement." Although Plaintiff was eligible for a merit-based step increase at that time, he did not receive one because he was not performing up to standards.

         6. Plaintiff was evaluated again at nine months and again received an overall rating of "needs improvement." As a result, he was again denied a step increase and the Department extended his probationary period for an additional six months because of continuing concerns about his job performance. Plaintiff was put on an individual performance improvement plan, which included a return to field training.

         7. At the fifteen-month mark, in November 2007, Plaintiff was evaluated by his supervisor and given an overall rating of "meets standards." The supervisor, Sergeant Baylos, noted that Plaintiff had improved greatly and had a bright future with the Department. As a result of this evaluation, Plaintiff became a permanent officer and received a salary step increase from Step A to Step B.

         8. Once an officer completes the probationary period, he is evaluated by his supervisor each year to determine, among other things, whether he is entitled to a merit-based step increase. If an officer meets or exceeds standards during the rating period, he is entitled to a step increase. In practice, merit-based step increases are awarded about 98% of the time. Of the ...


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