A nonprofit organization that publishes California government employee salary and pension data is suing the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to compel the fund to disclose which retirees are receiving disability pensions.
Transparent California wants the information so it can research disability fraud among retired public employees.
The Sacramento Bee in 2004 detailed disability abuses among the top ranks of the California Highway Patrol, where 80 percent of retiring chiefs filed disability claims within two years of retirement.
More recently, the Los Angeles Times has exposed a number of retired city employees who’ve received lucrative disability payments and gone on to complete half-marathon races and other physically demanding challenges.
Transparent California is the name of the salary and pension databases published by the Las Vegas-based Nevada Policy and Research Institute.
It asked for the disability data in one of its regular requests for CalPERS pension data. CalPERS provided much of the data but withheld records on the disability status of individual retirees, citing a California Public Records Act exemption for medical records.
“We have a long and successful history of exposing disability fraud wherever and whenever we uncover it,” said Matthew Jacobs, CalPERS’ general counsel. “But we are equally committed to protecting the privacy of our members’ health information.”
CalPERS has a hotline for people to report disability fraud. It also publishes detailed information regarding requests for disability pensions when retired workers contest denials of benefits. Those cases usually are posted on CalPERS’ website in advance of its Board of Administration meetings.
“Refusing to disclose benefit type prevents the public from providing the very oversight CalPERS claims is essential in order to safeguard against waste, fraud and abuse,” Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner said.
Work-related disability pensions are desirable because they allow public employees to retire early for medical reasons and to avoid paying income taxes.
Fellner filed the lawsuit on Aug. 17 in Sacramento Superior Court.