L.A. County to Appeal Social Worker’s Reinstatement

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services will appeal a decision to reinstate a social worker who was fired after the 2013 beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. A department spokesman confirmed the unusual move Thursday, saying DCFS would file a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court within the next few weeks.

The matter involves Gregory Merritt, a former DCFS supervisor who oversaw the boy’s case. He and three other social workers were fired two years ago after an investigation into Fernandez’s death. According to DCFS attorneys, Merritt was aware that the social worker he supervised failed to complete visits and document as required. He was also aware that the boy had threatened and attempted suicide, but failed to send him for a proper evaluation. Fernandez was later killed, allegedly at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.

Merritt appealed his termination and, in April, a Civil Service Commission ruled in his favor. He was reinstated with a 30-day suspension with no back pay.

“I have to believe that there was not a complete understanding of the situation by the commission,” said DCFS Director Philip Browning in response to the decision.

Department spokesman Armand Montiel reiterated Thursday that the department stands by the termination. The appeal is a rare move, he added—one which hasn’t been taken in over a year.

According to Montiel, Merritt will not be able to return to work until the appeal process is complete and will receive no pay as long as the case is pending.

Read more about the appeal here.