“Anti-huddling” Policy Not Within Scope

Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. County of Los Angeles (2008) __ Cal.App.4th ___ (Court of Appeal Case No. B197611) (Issued 9/24/08)

In 2006, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department revised its policy on deputy-involved shootings to prohibit officers involved in a shooting incident from talking with each other prior to being interviewed by the Department’s investigators. Officers still had the right to individually talk with an attorney or labor representative. The intent of the new policy was to ensure one officer’s recollection would not be influenced by another’s. The parties referred to this rule as an “anti-huddling” policy.

One of the issues before the court was whether the anti-huddling policy was within the scope of representation under the MMBA such that the County was required to bargain with the Association. Because this case involved Los Angeles County and cops, PERB did not have jurisdiction over the dispute. Thus, the case found its way to the Court of Appeal via the trial court.

In finding that the County’s policy was not within the scope of representation, the Court applied the 3-part test set forth in Claremont Police Officers Assn. v. City of Claremont (2006) 39 Cal.4th 623. First, the court found that the anti-huddling policy did not have a significant effect on officers’ “wages, hours, and working conditions.” Second, the court found that the policy arose from the implementation of a fundamental managerial decision. Each of these findings was sufficient to find that the policy was outside the scope of bargaining. However, for good measure, the court also applied the balancing test and found that it weighed in favor of the County.

With respect MMBA, the court’s holding does not break any new legal ground. The court’s application of the Claremont test is interesting, but not surprising as this case bears similarity to the Claremont case itself. In Claremont, the City implemented a tracking program to combat racial profiling. In both this case and Claremont, the courts appear to give management great deference in imposing policies that go directly to the public mission—to combat racial profiling in Claremont and to maintain public trust in this case.

Interesting Note: The Association also asserted that the anti-huddling policy violated the officers’ Weingarten rights. The court held: “We rejected [the Association’s] argument that Weingarten supports the principle that a deputy has a communal right to huddle with other deputies and counsel.”

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