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In Teacher Dismissal Hearing, School District Liable for Attorney's Fees When It Dismisses Charges on Eve of Proceedings
The California Education Code entitles employees to a hearing regarding their dismissal should they request it. The third district court of appeal has also ruled that once a school district employee requests a hearing to contest his/her dismissal, the school district cannot simply “dismiss” the case to avoid an award of attorney’s fees.
In Boliou v. Stockton Unified School District, charges were filed against an employee. He requested a hearing. The parties litigated for some time, but on the eve of the scheduled hearing, the District purported to “rescind” the charges. The employee contended he was entitled to proceed to the hearing, obtain a decision that said he would not be dismissed, and then be reimbursed for his attorney’s fees (which were substantial).
The court ruled for the employee. Key to the decision is the statutory context. In California, if a certificated (credentialed) school district employee is charged with acts that could support his or her dismissal, the public school employer must serve a notice specifying the charges and asking the employee if he/she requests a hearing. If the employee requests a hearing, the school district has the option of rescinding its accusation; but if it does not do so, a hearing must be scheduled within 60 days.
The hearing is conducted before a “Commission on Professional Competence” (CPC) composed of a person chosen by the employer; a person chosen by the affected employee, and an Administrative Law Judge (who sits as the chairperson). The CPC has only three options: it can order the person dismissed; or suspended; or order that the person be neither dismissed nor suspended. (See California Education Code § 44932-44944.)
But if the school district does not initially rescind and proceeds to schedule a hearing, the district cannot thereafter short-circuit the process by dismissing the charges on the eve of the hearing. In that instance, the employee has a right to a hearing decision that he or she not be suspended or terminated. And, in such a case, the employee is entitled by law to recover the costs of defense including reasonable attorney’s fees. See Education Code section 44944(e)(2).)
The court’s opinion is attached for your convenience.
At Slote & Links, our CA adminstrative Law attorneys regularly advises school administrators and teachers on a variety of legal issues. If you have questions about this ruling, or any other aspect of public or private school administration, please feel free to consult our office.