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Tess Viceral, Cristina Cornell, and Imelda Canovas were long-term employees of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Viceral worked as a supervisor under manager Cora Lee at times relevant to this appeal.

Viceral supervised Cornell and Canovas who were employed as Workers’ Compensation Consultants (WCCs). WCCs have the authority to settle workers’ compensation claims up to $75,000 and select third-party vendors to handle the claims.

DIR has policies against gifts received by a DIR employee from vendors with whom the DIR employee regularly does business if the gift is intended to reward the DIR employee for doing business with the gift giver.

This policy was not strictly enforced until Lee became manager in November 2012. Since the policy was not strictly enforced, vendors would sometimes take DIR employees to lunch, give gift cards, and bring edible treats to DIR offices.

Lee met with Viceral in late 2012 to remind Viceral of the gift policy and instructed Viceral to relay the message to the WCCs under her supervision, but Viceral failed to do so. Viceral and the WCCs continued to attend lunches and accept promotional gifts, and vendors continued to bring food to DIR offices.

Lee again reminded Viceral of the gift policy and sent her a confirming memorandum in early March 2013. A week or so later, Viceral finally held a meeting with the WCCs, reminding them of the gift policy and instructing them not to accept gifts from vendors. However, this did not seem to stop Viceral and the WCCs from attending lunches, and Canovas from handing out vendor gift cards.

An investigation was launched by DIR’s human resources division. Ultimately, Canovas, Cornell, and Viceral received notices of adverse action terminating their employment for improperly accepting gifts, falsifying their statements of economic interest, falsifying timesheets, and being dishonest in their investigatory interviews. Other WCCs involved either were not disciplined or had their terminations revoked after admitting dishonesty and settling for suspensions.

Canovas, Cornell, and Viceral appealed their terminations to the State Personnel Board. The ALJ found that Appellants were dishonest and that retaliation was not the primary basis for the termination, and he upheld the termination as proper. The Superior Court denied a petition for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal affirmed the termination in the unpublished case of Canovas v. State Personnel Bd.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the administrative hearing was fundamentally fair after noting that the appellants raised “a plethora of complaints, most of which are barely coherent.”