Laid-off Sacramento City teachers win partial court victory

Published: Saturday, Mar. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 10:30 am

Scores of laid-off Sacramento teachers who sued last year complaining that their school district ignored seniority-based job protections won a partial victory Friday in Sacramento Superior Court.

Judge Allen Sumner, in a case closely watched by educators and advocacy groups across the state, concluded in a 26-page decision that the Sacramento City Unified School District erred in categorically exempting all teachers at high-need schools from seniority-based layoffs.

But in a decision that gave something to both sides in the case, the court also said the district was permitted to make high-need exceptions to seniority-based layoffs on a case-by-case basis.

The lawsuit filed last year against the Sacramento City Unified School District was the second in two years challenging the district's decision to protect a handful of high-need campuses – labeled Priority Schools – from the effects of teacher turnover by skipping less senior teachers during layoffs.

Jeffrey B. Demain of Altshuler Berzon LLP, one of the San Francisco-based attorneys handling the case for the teachers, said the plaintiffs "agree with the court that the district failed to prove that exceptions to seniority based layoffs were permissible" in a 2012 administrative layoff hearing sought by teachers who had contested their layoffs.

The judge sent the issue back to the district for a case-by-case comparison of training and experience of the affected teachers.

The lead attorney for the district, Gregory A. Wedner, said he was pleased with the decision because it affirmed the concept that the district's Priority Schools "constitute a course of study under the Education Code" and that, when layoffs occur, the district can retain less senior employees better equipped to serve high-need students.

"The judge referred to that in the decision as the key point and the pivotal legal issue," Wedner said. "So from that standpoint, it's a victory. Now the district can move forward with its Priority Schools without having to worry about repeated attacks by teachers."

Demain said the district's re-analysis could produce back pay and benefits for affected workers along with reinstatements.

The district's teachers union filed a similar suit in 2011. That case is still pending.

The judge's decision noted that the district had decided to lay off almost 400 certified employees, including almost 300 K-12 teachers, for the 2012-13 school year due to the district's massive deficit.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

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