CalPers sued over failure to reveal whether retirees are on disability pensions

By John Breslin | Sep 27, 2018

California's largest pension system is being sued over its failure to list whether its members have retired on a disability pension.

Transparent California, a database run by Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), filed the suit against public employee pension fund CalPers..

Members are designated service, disabled, and industrial, or work-related, disability under the retirement system. Those with an industrial disability pension are tax exempt.

The problem of disability fraud has plagued California's public pension systems for decades, costing taxpayers untold millions," NPRI said in a press release following the filing of the suit on Sacramento Superior Court.

It continued, "Yet the fund, which manages over $300 billion in assets and receives nearly $20 billion annually from California taxpayers and public employees, has inexplicably refused to disclose the very information necessary to identify such cases of potential abuse."

“We have a long and successful history of exposing disability fraud wherever and whenever we uncover it,” said Matthew Jacobs, CalPERS’ general counsel, told the Sacramento Bee.

“But we are equally committed to protecting the privacy of our members’ health information.”

The case taken by Transparent California dates back to a request for records in December 2016. It wanted to know the amount and types of benefits of each retiree, along with other data.

Court documents reveal that CalPERS delivered most of the information requested in July the following year. But it is claimed it repeatedly denied the request for information on the designation of the retiree as service, disability or industrial disability.

According to the complaint filed in the Sacramento, Transparent California was told those records that may reveal whether a member retired due to disability, or is currently so, are confidential and an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

CalPERS, the lawsuit states, "has consistently indicated" that it was not prepared to release the data. 

"CalPERS' claimed sensitivity of information pertaining to the benefit 'type' (disability or service) is untenable because hearings related to appeals of denial of disability pensions are public hearings and recorded for broadcast," according to court documents.

Steven Greenhut, western region director of the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank, said the open government Brown Act does not allow CalPERS to pick and choose what information it releases.

"CalPERS should live up to the spirit of the state's historic open-government laws and hand over the information requested by the Nevada Policy Research Institute lawsuit," Greenhut wrote in a post first published by the California Policy Center. 

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