Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Court of Appeal Rejects Unemployment Benefits for Teachers Not Working in Summer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
School employees who take a summer break after receiving reasonable assurance of employment for the fall term are not entitled to unemployment compensation during the break, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
“We are not unsympathetic to the loss of wages incurred during periods of academic hiatus,” Justice Robert J. Dondero wrote for Div. One. “However, in effect what the claimants in this case are requesting is that the government should provide them with a full year’s income because they have agreed to work and be paid for only 41 weeks of each year.”
Teachers, he explained, have traditionally not been able to collect unemployment benefits during the summer because the assurance of employment in the fall permits them to plan for the lack of wages in the interim. An alternative scheme, he said, would have to be adopted by the Legislature rather than imposed by a court.
The Court of Appeal decision upholds two rulings by a San Francisco Superior Court judge in favor of the San Francisco Unified School District. One of Judge Richard Ulmer’s decisions denied a writ of administrative mandate sought by a union representing teachers and paraprofessionals, the other invalidated a precedent benefit decision by the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board that would have permitted substitute teachers to collect benefits during the summer under some conditions.
The dispute between the union and the district arose in the summer of 2011 when 11 substitute teachers and 15 paraprofessionals sought benefits, which an administrative law judge said they were entitled to. The appeals board reversed as to each claimant, in whole or in part.
The board reasoned that a summer session is a “recess period” under the Unemployment Compensation Code, which restricts a public school employee’s eligibility for benefits during any such period.
Section 1253.3 of the code says that benefits are not payable to credentialed school personnel for any week “which begins during the period between two successive academic years or terms . . . if the individual performs services in the first of the academic years or terms and if there is a contract or a reasonable assurance that the individual will perform services for any educational institution in the second of the academic years or terms.”
It also ruled, however, that employees who worked summer school in 2010 had a “reasonable expectation” of employment during summer 2011, and that those employees were entitled to benefits for days that schools were open during that session.
The union challenged the decision, arguing in its mandate petition that the summer session was an “academic term” and that the employees were entitled to benefits for the entire period between May 27, when schools let out for the summer, and Aug. 15 when the fall term began. The district cross-complained for declaratory relief, arguing that the appeals board was wrong to the extent it awarded benefits to the employees.
While the litigation was pending, the appeals board issued a precedent benefit decision involving another school district. It was that substitute teachers who are “qualified and eligible for work” during a summer session are not on recess within the meaning of the code and are eligible for benefits.
Ulmer, however, held that employees who have contracted or been given reasonable assurance that they will be employed in the fall cannot collect benefits for the period between the spring and fall terms, whether that period “is called ‘summer recess,’ ‘summer vacation,’ ‘summer vacation period,’ ‘summer school,’ ‘summer session,’ or anything else.”
Dondero, writing for the appellate panel, said the trial judge was correct, because “the statutory language unambiguously provides that public school employees who are employed in the spring term, and have received reasonable assurance of reemployment for the following fall term, are not eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits during the intervening summer, regardless of whether their school district offers a summer session.”
The case is United Educators of San Francisco v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, A142858.
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