Monday, May 20, 2019

Paxton v. Board of Administration (Cal. Ct. App. - May 20, 2019)

Government work is tough:

"The Department of Social Services is the state agency responsible for determining, through its Disability Determination Service Division, the medical eligibility of disabled Californians who are seeking federal Social Security benefits or state Medi-Cal benefits. Paxton is a medical consultant-psychiatrist who reviews claims for the federal program. . . . These consultants are expected to be at work for “core hours,” which are 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and to average 40 hours per week, but otherwise they have flexibility in deciding when they work.

The Department of Social Services has suffered from periodic backlogs of disability review cases in the federal program. In 1993, the Department of Social Services received an exemption from the Department of Personnel Administration1 to temporarily pay overtime to consultants to deal with the pending cases even though they are salaried employees and such payments are inconsistent with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.). The Department of Personnel Administration granted the temporary exemption with the expectation that the Department of Social Services would adopt an alternative to paying overtime.

In 1996, after a second request for an exemption was denied, the Department of Social Services proposed requiring consultants to work extra hours without compensation due to the extra workload and their classification as professional employees exempt from overtime and for whom “[t]he regular rate of pay is full compensation for all time that is required for the employee to perform the duties of the position.” The union representing the consultants rejected this proposal “out of hand.” The Department of Social Services and the union thereafter agreed to a voluntary bonus program “for processing additional workload.” Under the bonus program, consultants would be paid for each case closed above a certain threshold per week. . . .

Paxton participated in the bonus program from 2005 until it ended. During that period, consultants were paid $27 per case after 90 cases per week. The trial court found that “[t]he 90-case threshold was not hard to exceed in part because the threshold never was adjusted to account for increased efficiencies occasioned by computerization of the records and use of more experienced analysts.” Paxton and two retired consultants testified that they did not work more than 40 hours per week. Paxton was able to earn significant bonuses by spending an average of only five minutes to review a case.2 At this rate, he surpassed the weekly threshold for achieving a bonus in about a day and a half. As a result, he earned over $1.2 million in bonuses. In 2010, a particularly lucrative year, his monthly bonuses ranged from $16,821 to $39,501, more than three times his monthly salary. Paxton still works for the Department of Social Services."