Workers Comp Zone


Governor Brown has now promoted WCAB Commissioner Katherine Zalewski to the slot of Chair of the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

The slot of WCAB Chairperson has been open for over a year following the departure of Ronnie Caplane. Frankly, it was surprising that the slot had been left open so long.

A bit of basics about Zalewski’s background are noted in the announcement on the DIR site:

“Zalewski served on the board since her appointment by Governor Brown on April 30, 2014. Prior to her appointment, she joined the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) as a workers’ compensation administrative law judge and advisor to the Division of Workers’ Compensation from 2009 to 2011, and served as DIR chief counsel from 2012 to 2014. Prior to state service, she was senior associate at Schmit Law Office from 2000 to 2009, manager and attorney at Pacific Coast Services from 1998 to 2000, and worked at Express Network and Direct Legal Support Services from 1993 to 1998. Zalewski earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.”

Appointment of a WCAB chair has a number of potential consequences: staff hiring decisions, assignment of en banc and significant panel decisions, and the prominence that comes from being the primary face of the WCAB.

Given Ms. Zalewski’s role as DIR chief counsel between 2012 to 2014, she is well versed in the negotiations and policy decisions that led to the 2012 SB 863 reforms.

As I’ve noted in the blog before, even though we are now in 2017, there are still a number of issues regarding interpretation of the 2012 reforms statutory language.

Zalewski is likely to be on the board for a long time, so under her leadership many of those legal issues will likely be resolved.

I knew Zalewski as an opposing counsel in many cases at the Oakland and San Francisco boards over the years. It always struck me that she took a very practical approach to handling her client’s interests. She was a resolver and not a churner.

Clearly she will be remaining in a prominent role long after the current DIR/DWC leadership moves on and is replaced by leaders under a new governor.

Ms. Caplane was a frequent fixture on the circuit of workers’ comp stakeholder conferences and educational seminars. It is unclear whether Ms. Zalewski intends to be a frequent presence on that circuit.

And all of this is in the context of the fact that the WCAB still has several vacancies.

With Brown’s governorship sunsetting at the end of 2018, any appointees installed on the board in 2018 would have that much longer to serve on the board. So it may well be that Brown’s failure to make the remaining appointments is not merely motivated by cost saving but also a move that will extend the impact of his governorship well beyond his term.

Stay tuned. You can subscribe to the blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the upper right.

Julius Young