Las Vegas POA

Psychological Problems From Demotion Not ‘Service Related’

Written on 03/03/2021
Will Aitchison

Edward Marquez worked for the County of Los Angeles for approximately 20 years as an officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Public Safety. When that agency merged into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Marquez was conditionally offered the position of deputy sheriff, provided he could establish that he was qualified for the position by passing a background check, medical and psychological examinations, and a polygraph test.

Marquez failed the psychological examination and the Sheriff’s Department subsequently demoted him to the position of custody assistant. Marquez appealed and while the appeal was pending, Marquez was placed in a temporary assignment. He only worked in that position for a few months before he took a medical leave. Almost immediately thereafter, Marquez applied to the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA) for a service-connected disability retirement.

Marquez asserted that he suffered a psychological disability due to the Sheriff’s Department’s decision to demote him from a sheriff’s deputy to a custody assistant. After prolonged administrative proceedings, LACERA conceded that Marquez was permanently incapacitated from the performance of the duties of a sheriff’s deputy as well as a custody assistant. But although LACERA granted Marquez’s application for a disability retirement, it found that his disability was not service connected because it related to a personnel decision, not the performance of his job duties.

The California Court of Appeals upheld LACERA’s ruling. Under the County’s retirement system, an employee is entitled to disability retirement benefits if the employee establishes that he or she is “permanently incapacitated” physically or mentally from the performance of his or her duties. The question for the Court was whether Marquez could establish that his condition was a result of injury or disease arising out of and in the course of his employment.

The Court noted that “for an injury to arise out of and in the course of employment it must generally occur while the employee is performing the duties for which he was hired. The fitness-for-duty test caused the Sheriff’s Department to conclude that Marquez was unqualified for the position of deputy sheriff. Although Marquez was disappointed and embarrassed by that decision, which triggered some anxiety and other psychological ailments, the Department’s decision not to promote Marquez is simply not analogous to a situation where the employer required the employee to undergo medical treatment and that treatment caused a disabling injury.

“In truth, Marquez suffered psychological distress as a result of the Sheriff’s Department’s decision not to promote him to the position of deputy sheriff. That decision, and Marquez’s reaction to it, did not occur in connection with Marquez’s performance of his job duties. Stated differently, the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department’s decision that Marquez was unqualified for the position of deputy sheriff and Marquez’s subsequent disabling psychological condition based on that decision is too attenuated for Maher or the other cases discussed above to apply. We conclude, therefore, that Marquez’s injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.”

Marquez v. LACERA, 2020 WL 7488081 (Cal. Ct. App. 2020).

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