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United Educators of San Francisco AFT/CFT, AFL-CIO, NEA/CTA v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board

Supreme Court of California

January 16, 2020

UNITED EDUCATORS OF SAN FRANCISCO, AFT/CFT, AFL-CIO, NEA/CTA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Defendant, Cross-defendant and Appellant; San Francisco Unified School District Real Party in Interest and Respondent. San Francisco Unified School District, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, Defendant and Appellant.

         [456 P.3d 2] [257 Cal.Rptr.3d 385] First Appellate District, Division One, A142858 and A143428, San Francisco County Superior Court, CPF 12-512437, Richard B. Ulmer, Jr., Judge

Page 806

         COUNSEL

         Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, Stewart Weinberg and David A. Rosenfeld, Alameda, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Janill L. Richards, Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Julie Weng-Gutierrez, Assistant Attorney General, Samuel P. Siegel, Associate Deputy Solicitor General, Susan M. Carson, Gregory D. Brown and Beverley R. Meyers, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant, Cross-defendant and Appellant and for Defendant and Appellant.

         Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, Glenn Rothner, Pasadena; David J. Strom and Samuel J. Lieberman for the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Burke, Williams & Sorensen and John R. Yeh, Mountain View, for Real Party in Interest and Respondent and for Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Marion L. McWilliams, Emeryville, Michael L. Smith and Amy D. Brandt, San Francisco, for Oakland Unified School District as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent and Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, Laura Schulkind, San Francisco, Michael D. Youril, Fresno; Keith Bray, Long Beach, Joshua R. Daniels and Michael Ambrose for California School Boards Association’s Education Legal Alliance as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest and Respondent and Plaintiff and Respondent.

          OPINION

         Liu, J.

Page 807

         [456 P.3d 3] [257 Cal.Rptr.3d 386] Under section 1253.3 of the Unemployment Insurance Code (section 1253.3), public school employees are not eligible to collect unemployment benefits during "the period between two successive academic years or terms" if the employees worked during "the first of the academic years or terms" and received "reasonable assurance" of work during "the second of the academic years or terms." Here we address whether this limitation applies to substitute teachers and other public school employees during the summer months. We conclude that section 1253.3 does not bar such employees from collecting unemployment benefits if the summer session constitutes an "academic term." A summer session is an "academic term" within the meaning of the statute if the session, on the whole, resembles the institution’s other academic terms based on objective criteria such as enrollment, staffing, budget, and the instructional program offered.

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          I.

         California operates its unemployment insurance program in collaboration with the federal government. (American Federation of Labor v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1017, 1024, 56 Cal.Rptr.2d 109, 920 P.2d 1314');">920 P.2d 1314 (American Federation of Labor ); see Unemp. Ins. Code, § 101; all undesignated statutory references are to this code.) As part of this arrangement, the federal government subsidizes California’s unemployment insurance fund, and California employers receive federal tax credits for their contributions to the state fund. (Russ v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1981) 125 Cal.App.3d 834, 842, 178 Cal.Rptr. 421 (Russ ); see 42 U.S.C. § 502(a); 26 U.S.C. § 3302(a).) In exchange, the Legislature has agreed to conform our unemployment insurance laws to requirements established by Congress. (Russ, at p. 842, 178 Cal.Rptr. 421; see § 101.)

         Many of these requirements are set forth in the Federal Unemployment Tax [257 Cal.Rptr.3d 387] Act (FUTA). (26 U.S.C. § 3301 et seq.) In 1970, Congress passed the Employment Security Amendments of 1970, which amended FUTA to require states to provide unemployment insurance coverage to employees of state "institution[s] of higher education." (Pub.L. No. 91-373 (Aug. 10, 1970) 84 Stat. 697.) In doing so, Congress imposed the following limitation on such coverage: "[W]ith respect to service in an instructional, research, or principal administrative capacity ... [unemployment] compensation shall not be payable based on such service for any week commencing during the period between two successive academic years (or, when the contract provides instead for a similar period between two regular but not successive terms, during such period) to any individual who has a contract to perform such services in any such capacity for any institution or institutions of higher education for both of such academic years or both of such terms ...." (Ibid., codified in 26 U.S.C. § 3304(a)(6)(A).)

         When Congress amended FUTA under the Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1976 to require coverage of employees at most other public "educational institution[s]," it added a similar limitation: "[W]ith respect to services in an instructional[,] research, or principal administrative capacity for an educational institution ... [unemployment] compensation shall not be payable ... for any week commencing during the period between two successive academic years (or, when an [456 P.3d 4] agreement provides instead for a similar period between two regular but not successive terms, during such period) to any individual if such individual performs such services in the first of such academic years (or terms) and if there is a contract or reasonable assurance that such individual will perform services in any such capacity for any educational institution in the second of such academic years or terms." (Pub.L. No. 94-566 (Oct. 20, 1976) 90 Stat. 2670-2671, codified

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in 26 U.S.C. § 3304(a)(6)(A)(i).) Congress also established that "with respect to services in any other capacity for an educational institution ... [unemployment] compensation payable on the basis of such services may be denied to any individual for any week which commences during a period between two successive academic years or terms if such individual performs such services in the first of such academic years or terms and there is a reasonable assurance that such individual will perform such services in the second of such academic years or terms." (Pub.L. No. 94-566, supra, 90 Stat. 2671, codified in 26 U.S.C. § 3304(a)(6)(A)(ii), italics added.)

         Congress amended FUTA again in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 1977. (Pub.L. No. 95-19 (Apr. 12, 1977) 91 Stat. 39.) As relevant here, Congress added the words "or terms" after the phrase "between two successive academic years" in the provision regarding "services in an instructional[,] research, or principal administrative capacity for an educational institution" (Id., codified in 26 U.S.C. § 3304(a)(6)(A)(i)), thereby "clarif[ying] that the denial provisions apply between two successive terms as well as between two successive academic years" (H.R.Rep. No. 95-82, 1st Sess., p. 12 (1977)).

         The Legislature responded to these changes in federal law by enacting and subsequently amending section 1253.3. (See Stats. 1971, ch. 1107, § 58, p. 2116, codified in § 1253.3, subd. (b); Stats. 1978, ch. 2, § 80, p. 42, codified in § 1253.3, subds. (b)-(c); see also Russ, supra, 125 Cal.App.3d at p. 844, 178 Cal.Rptr. 421.) As amended in 1978, section 1253.3, subdivision (b) (section 1253.3.(b)) provides: "[W]ith respect to service in an instructional, research, or principal administrative [257 Cal.Rptr.3d 388] capacity for an educational institution," unemployment benefits "are not payable to any individual with respect to any week which begins during the period between two successive academic years or terms or, when an agreement provides instead for a similar period between two regular but not successive terms, during that period ... 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." Section 1253.3, subdivision (c) (section 1253.3(c)) declares the same limitation on benefits for "service in any other capacity ... for an educational institution."

          II.

          This case arises from unemployment benefit claims filed by 26 employees of the San Francisco United School District (SFUSD or District) in 2011. During the 2010-2011 school year, the claimants worked for SFUSD as on-call substitute teachers or as paraprofessional classified employees such as

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instructional aides and custodians. In the spring of 2011, all but one of the claimants received a letter from SFUSD providing "reasonable assurance" of employment during the 2011-2012 school year; the remaining ...


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