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California School Employees Association et al v. the Governing Board of the East Side Union High School District et al

March 15, 2011

CALIFORNIA SCHOOL EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
THE GOVERNING BOARD OF THE EAST SIDE UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Trial Court: Santa Clara County Superior Court Trial Judge: Honorable Kevin J. Murphy (Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. CV142980)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihara, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Appellant Bernice Singer and her labor union, appellant California School Employees Association (CSEA), appeal from the trial court's denial of their mandate petition. They contend that a classified employee of a nonmerit system school district*fn1 who attains permanent status and then is laid off from her position and thereafter reemployed by the district in a different, lower position retains her permanent status and may not be required to serve a probationary period in the new position. We conclude that the statutory scheme does not support their contention. We hold that such an employee's permanent status is restricted to the position or class in which it was attained and is not retained when the employee is reemployed in a different, lower position.

I. Background

Singer became employed by the East Side Union High School District (the District) in a School Community Liaison (SCL) position in November 1989. The SCL position was a year-round position that was paid at Range 18 on the District's salary schedule. Singer served a six-month probationary period and became a permanent employee in May 1990. In March 2008, the District decided to eliminate all of its SCL positions due to lack of funds. In April 2008, Singer was notified by the District that her position was being eliminated due to lack of funds and that she would be laid off in June 2008 and placed on the 39-month reemployment list. Singer's employment in the SCL position ended in June 2008.

In August 2008, the District posted openings for eight Campus Monitor (CM) positions. The CM position was not a year-round position; it had a 10-month schedule. The CM position was paid at Range 6 on the District's salary schedule, and it was therefore a lower position than the SCL position. The duties for the CM and SCL positions were considerably different. The CM position was limited to "ensur[ing] the safety of persons and property" on campus, while the SCL position involved dealing with a wide range of problems, including behavioral, academic, attendance, and family problems.

Singer applied for a CM position, and she was hired in a CM position in September 2008. At the outset, Singer was informed that she would be "on a probationary status" for the first six months. She began working in the CM position in September 2008. In February 2009, before she had served six months in the CM position, Singer was notified by the District that she was being "released" from her "probationary" position.

Singer and CSEA filed a verified mandate petition in May 2009. The petition sought reinstatement on the ground that Singer's permanent status did not end when she was laid off from the SCL position, but instead continued when she was reemployed in the CM position. The petition asserted that Singer was not a probationary employee in the CM position, but a permanent employee, and therefore had statutory and due process rights which the District violated by terminating her without notice, cause, or a hearing.*fn2

The District filed an answer. It did not dispute the basic facts. The District claimed that Singer's statutory and due process rights had not been violated because she was a probationary employee in the CM position and therefore lacked any statutory or due process rights.

The trial court denied the petition. "The Court finds that Singer was a probationary employee at the time of her release on February 6, 2009. The petitioner was hired into a new position after having been laid off by the District. Even though plaintiff was on the District's reemployment list at the time of the September 8, 2008, hire, she was not a District employee as her employment with the District had been terminated on June 30, 2008, by lay off. The District appropriately required the petitioner as a new hire to complete a probationary period in this new position before becoming a permanent employee."*fn3 The court entered judgment for the District. Singer and CSEA timely filed a notice of appeal.

II. Analysis

Appellants claim that Singer could not be required to serve a probationary period in the CM position. They maintain that she retained her permanent status, notwithstanding the fact that she had been laid off from the position in which she had been employed when she attained permanent status and then reemployed in a new position, one in which she had never previously been employed. Appellants' argument depends on their claim that a classified employee becomes a permanent employee of the district once she has completed a probationary period in any position, and that permanent status with the district is retained regardless of the position in which the employee is employed as long as the employee has not been promoted.*fn4

The terms and conditions of Singer's employment by the school district were governed entirely by statute, as statutes are the sole source of public employment rights. (Miller v. State of California (1977) 18 Cal.3d 808, 813; Page v. MiraCosta Community College Dist. (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 471, 488, fn. 8 [community college district employee].) As the facts are undisputed and the sole issue is one of statutory construction, we exercise de novo review. (Adair v. Stockton Unified School Dist. (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1436, 1442.)

Appellants bear a substantial burden in this case. They must identify a statutory basis for Singer's claim that a permanent employee who is laid off from one position, and then reemployed in a new and different position, retains her permanent status ...


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