Anthony Dennis sustained an injury in 2013 to his right wrist while working as an inmate for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The parties stipulated to an award in 2017. This did not include his claim for a SJDB voucher.
Prior to the stipulation, defendant sent Dennis a Notice of Offer of Regular, Modified, or Alternative Work. The Notice also stated “SUBJECT TO APPLICANT VERIFYING THEY ARE LAWFULLY QUALIFIED TO ACCEPT EMPLOYMENT AS AN INMATE LABORER, YOU HAVE VOLUNTARILY TERMINATED YOUR EMPLOYMENT DUE TO YOUR RELEASE FROM PRISON AND ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE FOR EMPLOYMENT[sic].”
Dennis filed a Request for Dispute Resolution Before Administrative Director, to resolve the issue of entitlement to a SJDB voucher. the AD did not issue a determination, and pursuant to the Rules, the request was therefore deemed denied.
Dennis then filed a DOR with the Sacramento District Office asking it to adjudicate his claim to this benefit. The WCAB rescinded the Award, and substituted a new Finding that applicant is entitled to a SJDB voucher.
It concluded that the WCAB maintains exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate SJDB disputes irrespective of AD Rule 10133.54, which provides that the parties may request a dispute resolution with the Administrative Director before appealing the Administrative Director’s decision to the WCAB.
The Defendant, newly aggrieved, sought reconsideration of the new decision, which the WCAB granted. In the tentative En Banc decision it concluded that AD Rule 10133.54 exceeds the authority granted in sections 4658.5(c) and 4658.7(h), which authorizes the Administrative Director to adopt regulations for the administration of the supplemental job displacement benefits program. Neither statute authorizes the Administrative Director to adjudicate SJDB disputes.
It went on to note that it was “cognizant that employment in a prison setting is unique in that inmate workers cannot return to an inmate job once they are released from prison, making it impossible for a prison employer to make a bona fide job offer. Our review of statutes and case law, however, leads us to conclude that an employer’s inability to offer regular, modified, or alternative work does not release an employer from the statutory obligation to provide a SJDB voucher.”
In concluding, the WCAB issued its notice of intent to issue a decision after affording the Administrative Director 30 days to file a response to this Notice of Intention.
The Administrative Director responded contending that: (1) it has the adjudicatory authority to resolve disputes over the SJDB and that its dispute resolution process is valid; (2) its dispute resolution process is voluntary and does not usurp the jurisdiction of the WCAB; and (3) the WCAB cannot invalidate AD Rule 10133.54 because the issue is not ripe since applicant did not properly file his Request for Dispute Resolution Before Administrative Director.
Nothing in the Administrative Director’s Response changed the views as expressed in the Notice of Intention. Its. final En Bank decision of Dennis v Department of Corrections, the WCAB provided a thorough and detailed iustification of this position.