Retirees Not Entitled To Pension Increase Based On New POST Certification Pay

In 1996, the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Officers Association reached accord on a memorandum of understanding (California’s equivalent of a collective bargaining agreement). The new contract called for additional pay for officers who held “intermediate” or “advanced” certificates from California’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST).

A group of retirees known as the Veteran Police Officers Association filed a lawsuit contending that they were entitled to an increase in their pensions based upon the new POST certification pay. The retirees argued that the San Francisco City Charter tied their retirement benefits to the salaries of police officers, and that the new POST premiums were simply wage scales included within the existing basic ranks of officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain.

The California Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court found that “the hierarchical structure of officers in the Police Department is not affected by POST certificates. In order for officers to qualify for increased compensation, they are required to meet certain educational and training requirements; mere longevity does not merit POST certification. Structure in the Department did not necessitate any college education for advancement through the ranks. Nor was there a requirement under the prior system that officers hold an intermediate or advanced certificate for advancement.

“The retirees have not shown that they met the criteria for POST certificates, and hence, the POST pay. It is well settled that public employees have vested contractual rights to pension benefits that accrue upon acceptance of employment. Here, by contrast, the retirees have not shown that they met the criteria for the new ranks. The pension benefits of retired employees were not implicated by the new plan, and the retirees were merely not entitled to receive higher pensions based on new salaries accorded current officers with POST certificates.”

Veteran Police Officers Association v. Retirement Board of the City and County of San Francisco, 2007 WL 1848989 (Cal.App. 2007).

This article appears in the August 2007 issue