CalPERS Board Member Sues Over Social Media Dispute

After publicly criticizing the pension fund, Margaret Brown gets litigious.

Sacramento, CA (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg )

Sacramento, CA

(David Paul Morris/Bloomberg )

A member of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System board has sued the organization, the board, and the board’s president to court over a dispute stemming from her Twitter account.

Margaret Brown, elected to the CalPERS governing body in 2018, claims that board president Henry Jones disciplined her for using the word “CalPERS” as a part of her Twitter account name, email address, website URL, and Facebook handle. She is asking the court to compel CalPERS to rescind the discipline and provide her with an opportunity for an administrative appeal hearing.

Brown has previously been critical of the organization on social media, particularly around the tail-risk hedge that CalPERS unwound in January.

[II Deep Dive: CalPERS CIO Called Out By Ex-Head of Tail-Risk Program]

Jones said via email that the suit “has no merit” and distracts the board from doing its job.

Pension fund executives sent cease and desist letters for “improper use of CalPERS’s name” in her email address and Twitter account, according to an email from Jones to Brown, which is attached to the court filing and dated December 20, 2019.

Brown told Institutional Investor by phone Tuesday that the Twitter account has since been suspended for “impersonation.” She added that on those accounts, she represents herself as a CalPERS board member, and not as CalPERS itself.

According to Jones’s email included in the court filing, Brown’s conduct transgressed the board’s inconsistent activities statement, which states that board members cannot do things “knowing that the act may later be subject, directly or indirectly to the control, inspection, review, audit, or enforcement by the PERS Board.”

Brown alleged that following that email, her travel privileges were suspended through June 30 and she was required to take additional training. Her filing also said that Jones will “take into account” her alleged misconduct when considering committee appointments. These measures prevent Brown from meeting with her constituents and attending training, she claimed in the lawsuit.

As board president, Jones told II, he has the authority to discipline board members who break the rules.

“In this case, I shouldered that responsibility by carefully considering that Ms. Brown had been previously advised against using CalPERS’s name improperly and violating CalPERS’s trademarks; that she continued to do so; and that she had not complied with previous directions to stop,” Jones said via email.

Brown’s court filing points out that former CalPERS board member, Richard Costigan, still uses a Twitter account called @CostiganCalPERS. This account is still active as of June 23. Brown said by phone Tuesday that the board does not have a social media policy in place.

Brown’s court filing said shows that she reached out to CalPERS about setting up a mediation with a “neutral third party” in May, but nothing came to fruition.

A spokesperson for CalPERS did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.