The California Supreme Court held oral argument on May 5, 2020 in Alameda County Deputy Sheriff's Association v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association. This is one of the two significant pension cases pending before the state high court concerning pension cuts for local public employees following the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA).
Although it is a local pension case, the legal issues argued may impact the long standing “California Rule.” Since 1955, the courts have held under the California Rule that once pension benefits are granted to a public employee, they are vested and cannot be modified for the duration of an employee’s career. ACSS joined in the requests for the high court to hear these types of pension cases to preserve the long-standing California Rule to protect from the possibility of your pension being changed by future legislation or through an initiative measure.
In Alameda, the Deputy Sheriff's union and others challenged the elimination of overtime pay, on-call pay, call-back pay, vacation and sick leave sold back, recruitment bonuses, and other items from pension calculations. The lower appellate court had ruled that many of these pension cuts for current employees were legal, but ruled some pension benefits required further review under the California Rule. Allowing the pension reductions for current employees is a significant deviation from the California Rule. Both sides had asked the high court to review the case.
At oral argument, the county retirement boards argued that including these “pension spiking” items in a pension calculation was never lawful and that employees had no reasonable expectation that they would be included in a pension calculation for future service. The unions argued that this deferred compensation cannot be changed for existing employees during their public employee careers.
It is unclear whether the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will be decided on broad constitutional grounds with possible impacts on the California Rule and implications for all public employees and their pensions, or will be decided on a narrow basis, affecting only the parties to the litigation or local employers and employees. The matter was taken under submission with a decision expected in the next month or two.
ACSS will continue to keep you apprised of important pension issues and inform you of actions taken to protect the interests of excluded state employees.