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Byrd v. State Personnel Board

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

June 26, 2019

CLARE BYRD, Plaintiff and Appellant,
STATE PERSONNEL BOARD et al., Defendants and Respondents.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2017-00007971-CU-WM-CTL, Kenneth J. Medel, Judge. Affirmed.

          Walker Law and Justin O. Walker for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Alvin Gittisriboongul and Dorothy Irene Egel for Defendant and Respondent, State Personnel Board.

          Matthew G. Jacobs and Kevin Matthew Kreutz for Defendant and Respondent, California Public Employees' Retirement System.

          Brian Patrick Villarreal for Defendant and Respondent, Board of Trustees of the California State University.

          DATO, J.

         Clare Byrd appeals from the trial court's judgment denying her petition for writ of mandate and declaratory judgment. Byrd asked the court to intervene following the breakdown of a settlement agreement between her and the California State University system (CSU), which the State Personnel Board (SPB) initially approved. But following a refusal to comply with material terms of the settlement by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), SPB changed its position and rejected the settlement in a decision vacating its prior approval.

         Among other provisions, the settlement agreement directed that Byrd would be reinstated to a classification with a significantly higher salary, which she had never held, and that she would receive compensation at the higher salary during the period that CSU, with her assistance, would apply for medical retirement benefits. Byrd requested that the trial court compel CalPERS to process her reinstatement at the higher salary level. CalPERS maintained it was unable to do so because Government Code section 21198-part of the statutory framework governing CalPERS's oversight of state pension funds-only authorized Byrd's reinstatement to a job classification she previously held before her termination.[1] The trial court agreed with CalPERS and denied Byrd's petition.

         On appeal, Byrd argues that section 21198 allows CalPERS to reinstate Byrd to employment as a straightforward matter and does not require reinstatement to the same specific classification or pay rate. She emphasizes that the bargained-for terms of the settlement agreement contemplated a scenario in which Byrd would return to work, at least for a short period, while her application for medical retirement benefits was processed.

         In the typical case, section 21198 directs CalPERS to reinstate an employee who was involuntarily terminated but then returned to that same classification as a result of an administrative or judicial proceeding. The reinstatement thus allows CalPERS to effectuate the purpose of this specific provision and recreate the status quo ante. There may be atypical circumstances in which an individual can be properly reinstated (following involuntary termination and pursuant to an administrative or judicial proceeding) to a different classification. But if there are those instances, the statute requires a nexus between the new classification and the underlying dispute. In the absence of any such connection here, we find that section 21198 prevents CalPERS's compliance with the settlement agreement. Accordingly, we affirm.


         A. Byrd's Dismissal From San Diego State University

         In September 2014, after 14 years of employment, Byrd received a Notice of Pending Dismissal from her position as Administrative Analyst/Specialist at San Diego State University (SDSU), part of the CSU system. On December 9, 2014, SDSU provided Byrd with a Notice of Decision Regarding Disciplinary Action, which stated that she was dismissed from her employment effective December 15, 2014. Byrd then filed a Service Retirement Election Application with CalPERS, with a retirement date of December 31, 2014. CALPERS accepted her application and proposed effective retirement date.

         B. Byrd's Appeal of Her Dismissal and Settlement with CSU

         On December 16, 2014, Byrd filed an appeal with the State Personnel Board (SPB) challenging her dismissal. An Administrative Law Judge for the SPB later conducted a Prehearing Settlement Conference with the parties, which was successful. Byrd and CSU entered into a stipulation for settlement conditioned on (1) Byrd's not revoking the agreement within seven days and (2) the SPB's approval. Byrd declined to revoke the agreement, and the SPB approved the settlement. The SPB found that the settlement was "consistent with the interests protected by the State's merit civil service system" but noted that, "in approving the settlement, the [SPB] expresses no opinion as to whether the terms of the settlement are otherwise reasonable under all the circumstances of the case."

         1. Byrd's Obligations Under the Settlement Agreement

         Byrd agreed to withdraw all complaints and grievances then-pending and to waive and fully release CSU and related parties from any claims related to her employment. She promised to cooperate with CalPERS regarding the application for medical retirement that CSU was to file on her behalf, and agreed to bear sole responsibility for any determination made by CalPERS with respect to any retirement application. If she failed to fully cooperate, the settlement would be void and she would be deemed to have resigned from her position effective July 1, 2015. If CalPERS denied the application, she would be deemed to have resigned from her position with CSU, effective the date of CalPERS's determination of the medical retirement application. In ...

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