Employer Allowed To Offset Disability Payments By Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Darryl Brown and Martin Whitfield were injured in the line of duty as officers of Los Angeles Police Department. They both applied for benefits under LAPD’s disability retirement pension, which contains an offset: Duty disability payments are reduced by the amount of any workers’ compensation award the officer receives for the disabling injury. Brown and Whitfield sued the City, alleging that the offset violated their rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

A federal appeals court rejected the lawsuit. The Court began by describing the two different retirement systems available to LAPD officers. The first, a service pension, is based on length of service and age. The second, a disability pension, is available only to officers who have sustained a work-related injury and whom the LAPD cannot reasonably accommodate in employment. The service pensions are funded in part by employee contributions, the disability pensions are funded exclusively by the City. Officers disabled after an on-the-job injury who are eligible for a service pension can choose either pension. No offset results if the injured officer elects the service pension.

In the Court’s view, this structure defeated Brown and Whitfield’s ADA claim: “The City’s police pensions are nondiscriminatory. In addition to the disability retirement pension, the City also provides the seniority-based service pension, which is not subject to any offset for workers’ compensation and which is clearly distinct from the disability pension program as evidenced by the different funding mechanisms. The City provides two separate pension programs to officers with disabilities. The two programs need not provide identical benefits.

“The offset does not treat disabled officers differently or create disproportionate burdens because of the nature of their limitations or even their status as individuals with disabilities. It simply limits the type of compensation for work-related injuries that happens to be available only to individuals who are disabled. Most importantly, the limitation merely pertains to the cause of the injury – that is, whether it was sufficiently work-related that the officer receives workers’ compensation. This is not discrimination by reason of disability.”

Brown v. City of Los Angeles, 2008 WL 962057 (9th Cir. 2008).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue