California Rule Does Not Protect “Airtime”

Earlier this week the California Supreme Court ruled in the case CalFire vs CalPERS. The case challenged one of the provisions of California’s 2014 pension reform legislation (PEPRA) which had eliminated the purchase of “Airtime.”

This was the practice whereby retiring public employees could purchase “service credits” that would lengthen the number of years they worked, which would increase the amount of their pensions, even though they hadn’t actually worked those additional years. While the amount these retirees would pay was always estimated to cover how much they’d eventually get back, with interest, in their pensions, in practice these estimates were always too low.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that airtime was protected by the “California Rule,” which, the argued, prevents pension benefits from being reduced unless some other benefit of equal value is offered in return. But the court found that the California Rule wasn’t applicable in this case, setting an interesting precedent for other pending cases.

According to attorney and pension law expert Jonathan Holtzman, this ruling is a breakthrough.

“This is the first case in which, ever, where the court has attempted to define a principled basis for vesting doctrine – to analyze in a rigorous manner the legal basis of the vesting doctrine,” Holtzman said, “Although it does not resolve the issue, the case leaves wide open the question whether vesting protects prospective benefits of current employees. It takes a narrow view of what constitutes […] Read More