City attorney Jan Goldsmith's office, carrying a somewhat tarnished image after a string of recent defeats, the failed prosecution of a man scrawling anti-corporatist rants using sidewalk chalk that drew national headlines, and a questionable meeting with opponents of city policy, was in a victorious mood Monday, as a January 13 release celebrated victory over a former city employee attempting to collect unemployment insurance.
Jorge Leon, an appeals board ruled on January 10, was improperly granted unemployment by an administrative law judge in October after being forced out of a job he'd agreed to leave five years prior.
Leon was a participant in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program, which allowed him to quit making pension contributions and begin drawing pension benefits while still employed, though those benefits were to be diverted to an account that would not be accessible until retirement. In exchange for the opportunity to draw benefits early, Leon and other program participants agree to freeze their pensionable salary base at the time they enter the program. They also agree to formally retire no more than five years after beginning to receive program benefits.
The measure has stirred controversy since it was introduced in 1997 as a way to retain experienced workers longer, thus avoiding new hires for whom the city would need to make additional pension contributions. A 2011 study cited by the then-San Diego Union-Tribune found the program had cost the city nearly $150 million.
"We chose to pursue this appeal because we viewed this as a flagrant abuse of the system and we did not want to open the possibility of other [program] participants claiming benefits," said Goldsmith via release. "We cannot not allow former employees who voluntarily retire to double and triple dip at the expense of the taxpayers."
The appeals board found that in signing the agreement to retire upon or before the passage of five years, Leon "did not act as a person genuinely interested in maintaining employment," and that despite his refusal to resign as agreed, he had voluntarily left work and was thus ineligible for benefits.