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Union Suit Against Compton's Hiring Policy Set for Trial

May 08, 1988|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — A lawsuit charging that more than 80 city employees were hired in violation of Civil Service rules--and should therefore be fired--is scheduled for trial Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

A Compton employee union filed the suit in 1986, alleging that the city's hiring rules were circumvented for a number of years so that jobs could be given to "friends and relatives" of city officials and administrators. The union says these employees were illegally placed in a job classification that exempts them from having to take a Civil Service examination.

"It's really a very simple proposition," said Howard Z. Rosen, attorney for Los Angles City Employees Union Local 347, which represents most of Compton's non-public safety personnel. "There are approximately 87 positions that have been (made exempt from the exam) that shouldn't have been. What the union is seeking is an order to open the jobs and force the (improperly appointed) incumbents to compete for the jobs like they should have in the first place."

City May Ask for Continuance

Deputy City Atty. Troy Smith, who is defending the city, said he intends to seek a continuance because he has a personal stake in the case. Smith and several other deputy city attorneys were named as having gotten their jobs illegally in documents filed by the union last month. He said city officials are seeking extra time to hire an outside attorney to represent them.

"(City Atty. Wesley Fenderson Jr.) wants to avoid the appearance that we would be representing the people in our office better than people in any other office," Smith said.

He said that the city will also seek to have the court allow the affected employees to be represented by their own attorneys.

In documents filed with the court, city officials argue that some of the so-called "unclassified" employees have held their jobs for several years and should therefore be allowed to keep them. Officials also say that to terminate so many employees--about 11% of the work force--at the same time would cause "chaos" in city services.

Manager Did Not Respond

City Manager James C. Goins did not return several calls for comment about the suit and the city's hiring practices.

Under the city Charter, Compton Civil Service employees fall into two categories, classified and unclassified. The difference is that classified employees must compete for their jobs through a Civil Service examination and unclassified employees do not.

Some job categories are specifically listed as unclassified. Those include all elected officials, the city manager, his assistant and secretary, members of appointed boards and commissions, crossing guards, part-time employees and those hired periodically to give "professional, scientific, technical or expert" advice.

The Charter also says the city's personnel board can place some new positions in the unclassified service if they are "created for a special or temporary service and which would exist for a period of not longer than 90 days."

It goes on to say that the personnel board may exempt a position from the classified service for up to six months.

All other workers--covering dozens of job classifications such as clerk, recreation supervisor and janitor--are considered classified.

1982 Memo Cited

But in its suit, the union charges that people doing those types of jobs were hired as unclassified workers and that administrators knew as early as 1982 that they were breaking the law. Union officials cite a memo written that year by Personnel Director Sally Whited Taylor.

"The positions in question--approximately 100--do not fit this definition (as unclassified) and therefore contribute to the misuse of the presently described unclassified service in the city of Compton," Taylor wrote.

Taylor declined to comment last week.

Last month, the City Council voted 4 to 1 to pass a resolution recommended by Fenderson to shift all unclassified jobs not specifically authorized by the Charter into the classified service. But it contained a "grandfather" clause that allowed those workers who have held their jobs since July, 1986, to keep them without having to take an examination. Workers hired since then will have to go through the examination process.

Councilman Robert L. Adams said he voted for the plan because it is his understanding that the city could face lawsuits from the unclassified employees if they are terminated.

"Besides, I couldn't see any real problems keeping the people who have been there a long time," Adams said. "If there were some wrongs, we have now corrected them and now we can move on."

Vote Against Resolution

Councilman Maxcy D. Filer, who voted against the resolution, said the council had tried for years to end "nepotism and favoritism" that he says was being conducted in the hiring process.

"There is no way that a laborer (should) be hired into an unclassified position," Filer said. He said he was against letting long-time unclassified employees keep their jobs without having to take a test.

"It is unfair to all of the others who took the test over the years--those who took the test and passed and those who took the test and failed," Filer said.

Rosen said the council resolution does not affect the union's position. He said the union rejects the argument that just because a person has had a job for a number of years, he should be able to keep it.

"You shouldn't be able to circumvent the system just by having the job for a long time," Rosen said. "They weren't entitled to the jobs in the first place. The thing about public employment is that there are procedures established to make sure that jobs aren't given to people just because they are friends and relatives of city administrators."

Compton officials acknowledged last year that 12.7% of the city's then-732 employees are related by blood or marriage. This compared to 1.3% in Downey and 4.5% in Carson, two nearby cities of a similar size to Compton.

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