Court Rules L.A. Schools Can’t Ignore Union Seniority When Laying off Teachers

Friday, August 17, 2012

In a case that pitted liberal constituencies against each other, a state appellate court ruled that union seniority trumped the needs of poor schools to hang on to trusted teachers.

California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed an earlier trial court compromise in Reed v. L.A. Unified that let the Los Angeles Unified School District, wrestling with difficult budget cuts, keep teachers at struggling schools while releasing others with more seniority elsewhere.

The decision grew out of a conflict in 2009 when the district announced it would have to lay off a number of temporary and probationary teachers. The cuts would have fallen hardest on the poorest schools, where teachers tend to have less seniority, and force the use of substitute teachers to fill the vacancies.

Lawsuits were filed by students and parents at three of the district’s worst-performing schools, claiming the district decision denied them their constitutional right to equal education opportunity. A deal was struck to skip the most heavily impacted “target schools” and spread the pain among more senior teachers at 45 schools.  

United Teachers Los Angeles appealed the Superior Court settlement, claiming it violated due process and abrogated its collective bargaining agreement, which honors seniority. The union also argued that the settlement didn’t accomplish its goal of protecting inner-city schools from high teacher turnover because “it tries to address just one sliver of what affects teacher turnover—layoffs—without addressing the more imperative issues, such as ineffective administrators, unsafe conditions, lack of intervention for struggling students, and other problems.”

The parties that had originally settled the lawsuit argued that due process had been fulfilled during the lengthy negotiations and hearing overseen by the Superior Court judge.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and said the union could not be forced to abide by an agreement they weren’t a party to. Dissenting Justice Kathryn Doi Todd said the union had been given ample opportunity to participate in the decision as an “intervening defendant” and “the law does not require more.”

The Reed settlement will remain in effect for a month until the appellate court decision becomes final. Some teachers have already been laid off.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which represented the students and parents, said they would appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

–Ken Broder       


To Learn More:

L.A. Unified Settlement Bypassing Seniority-Based Layoffs Nullified (by Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times)

Union Wins Challenge to Teacher Layoff Deal (by Annie Youderian, Courthouse News)

Groups to Ask California Supreme Court to Continue Teacher Layoff Protections at 45 L.A Schools (American Civil Liberties Union)

Reed v. L.A. Unified School District (2nd District Court of Appeal) (pdf)

UTLA Victory: Appeals Court Invalidates Reed Settlement (United Teachers Los Angeles)

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