Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 authorizes an award of “up to treble damages” in a tort action for childhood sexual assault where the assault occurred “as the result of a cover-up.” Government Code section 818 exempts a public entity from an award of damages “imposed primarily for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”Plaintiff sued the school district (LAUSD) alleging an LAUSD employee sexually assaulted her when she was 14 years old and the assault resulted from LAUSD’s cover-up of the employee’s sexual assault of another student. She requested treble damages under section 340.1. The trial court denied LAUSD’s motion to strike the damages request. The court of appeal reversed. While the harm caused by childhood sexual assault is undoubtedly amplified if a victim learns the assault resulted from a deliberate cover-up by those charged with the victim’s care, noneconomic damages under general tort principles already provide compensation for this added psychological trauma. The treble damages provision has no compensatory function. Section 340.1 generally serves to ensure perpetrators of sexual assault are held accountable for the harm they inflict but its text unambiguously demonstrates the treble damages provision’s purpose is to deter future cover-ups by punishing past cover-ups. Because treble damages under section 340.1 are primarily exemplary and punitive, a public entity like LAUSD maintains sovereign immunity from liability for such damages. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Theta Xi challenges the decision by USC to suspend recognition of the fraternity's USC chapter for six years. The sanction stemmed from the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards' (SJACS) conclusion that Theta Xi had violated nine sections of the University Student Conduct Code, including sections prohibiting hazing and the serving of alcohol to anyone under 21. Theta Xi filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus against USC and others under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, alleging that USC's suspension decision should be set aside. The trial court denied the petition.The Court of Appeal affirmed and concluded that Theta Xi has not shown that USC violated its limitations policy and, even assuming the limitations policy restricted USC's jurisdiction, Theta Xi has not shown that USC acted in excess of its jurisdiction in suspending its recognition of Theta Xi's USC chapter. The court also concluded that USC's decision to suspend its recognition of Theta Xi's local chapter did not substantially affect any vested fundamental right held by Theta Xi. Therefore, the trial court properly declined to exercise its independent judgment in reviewing the evidentiary support for SJACS's factual findings, and properly applied the substantial evidence standard instead. The court further concluded that substantial evidence supported SJAC's alcohol-related findings and other challenged findings. In this case, SJACS's factual findings adequately supported USC's decision to suspend its recognition of Theta Xi's local chapter for six years. Finally, the court concluded that Theta Xi received a fair administrative hearing. View "Alpha Nu Association of Theta Xi v. University of Southern California" on Justia Law

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The University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Technology Management workload policy described the standard course load and additional teaching responsibilities, with procedures for scheduling course assignments, stating that the chair “resolves any differences and has final authority for the teaching schedule.” The Department Chair informed Professor Akella that he would be assigned four classes in the 2015-2016 academic year because he was not participating in any undergraduate advising or undergraduate curricular leadership roles; no offsetting service or research activities justified reducing his teaching load. Akella refused the assignment and filed a grievance with the Academic Senate. Akella’s attorney wrote to the provost, concerning the course that Akella “will not teach.” The provost rejected Akella’s request. The Senate denied Akella’s grievance.Akella did not appear to teach the scheduled course in March 2016, which had about 80 enrolled students. A committee tasked with reviewing a disciplinary complaint and Akella’s response unanimously rejected Akella's argument that the workload policy limited the chair’s authority to assign more than three courses and recommended disciplinary action. The provost agreed. After a formal hearing, the chancellor adopted a committee report rejecting Akella’s arguments and recommending a 15 percent annual salary reduction for one year and a letter of censure to Akella’s personnel file. The superior court ruled in Akella’s favor. The court of appeal reversed. Substantial evidence in the record supported the university’s decision. View "Akella v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Sargent began working for the University in 1991 as an environmental health-and-safety technician. Sargent was the campus’s licensed asbestos consultant. Sargent sued, presenting abundant evidence about retaliation after he raised concerns about environmental hazards. A jury found in his favor on claims alleging unlawful retaliation and on a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code 2698, PAGA), which was premised almost entirely on violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Labor Code 6300, CalOSHA). He was awarded more than $2.9 million in PAGA penalties and more than $7.8 million in attorney fees.The court of appeal affirmed the award of attorney fees but reversed the award of PAGA penalties. Education Code 66606.2 does not bar PAGA claims against the California State University (CSU) system; CSU is not categorically immune from PAGA penalties because it is a public entity. Viable PAGA claims can be asserted against CSU only when the statutes upon which the claims are premised themselves provide for penalties. Here, Sargent brought some viable PAGA claims but ultimately failed to establish CSU’s liability for them because the jury found that he was not personally affected by the underlying statutory violations. View "Sargent v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of mandate as well as a complaint for due process violations against LAUSD and Defendant Sohn, seeking reinstatement and damages. Plaintiff contends that under Education Code section 44466, which governs tenure for university interns, he had acquired permanent status at the commencement of the 2018–2019 school year. Plaintiff argued that he had satisfied the requirements of section 44466 by completing his university coursework in advance of the 2017–2018 school year, serving that school year in a credentialed teaching position (first under his intern credential, and then his regular credential), then beginning the 2018–2019 school year under his regular credential.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment concluding that section 44466 contemplates that former university interns serve a complete year under a regular credential before acquiring tenure. The court explained that plaintiff did not acquire tenure under section 44466 because the post-internship year under section 44466 does not begin until the former intern is reemployed under a regular credential by the school district that employed him as an intern. Therefore, the trial court correctly ruled that plaintiff did not acquire tenure at the commencement of the 2018–2019 school year. View "McGroarty v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Saddleback College and Juan Avalos, vice-president of Saddleback’s student services and its Title IX officer, appealed the granting of a writ of mandamus in favor of a Saddleback student, Marcus Knight. Knight petitioned for relief after he was disciplined when two female students complained that he was following them, taking photos of one of them on his phone, and touching them. Knight had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism, which have complicated his experience at Saddleback. In March 2018, Knight received a letter from Avalos stating that he was “suspended” – barred from classes and campus activities. It appeared, however, that he was allowed to attend classes anyway, while he contested the suspension. Eventually the potential suspension was dropped, and a written disciplinary reprimand was placed in his student record instead. At trial, Knight based his petition on the ground that the college did not afford him a hearing during which he or his counsel could confront and cross-examine witnesses. The trial court granted the writ petition on that basis. The Court of Appeal determined Knight was not entitled to that level of due process: requiring a trial-like hearing before Saddleback could issue a written reprimand placed too great a burden on the college when compared to the minor detriment to Knight. "He received notice of the charges against him, and he had an opportunity to respond – several opportunities, in fact. Had the suspension gone forward, he would have had the hearing he feels he was entitled to. But it did not go forward, and he received a much lower level of discipline." Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment for Knight and directed the trial court to enter judgment for appellants. View "Knight v. South Orange Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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The court of appeal upheld the dismissal of a claim against a school district under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code 51), A school district is not a business establishment and cannot be sued under the Unruh Act even where, as in this case, the alleged discriminatory conduct is actionable under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101).The California Supreme Court has not considered whether a government entity, specifically an agent of the state performing a state constitutional obligation is a business establishment within the meaning of the Act. The court of appeal examined the historical genesis of the Act and the Act’s limited legislative history. Public school districts are, nonetheless, subject to stringent anti-discrimination laws set forth in the Education Code and the comprehensive anti-discrimination provisions set forth in the Government Code and applicable to all government entities, as well as federal constitutional mandates (actionable under 42 U.S.C. 1983), and statutes such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681), Title II of the ADA (42 U.S.C. 12131), and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794). View "Brennon B. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In February 2017, students at Rubidoux High School (RHS) participated in a protest; approximately one quarter of the student body boycotted school for a day. Plaintiff-appellant, Patricia Crawford, a guidance counselor at RHS, criticized the students who boycotted in an e-mail to a colleague and by leaving several comments on a RHS teacher’s public Facebook post that was similarly critical of the boycotting students. Some students and others considered the post and Crawford’s comments on the post to be offensive. The Facebook post “went viral,” and a public outcry against Crawford and other RHS teachers’ comments ensued, resulting in nationwide media attention, a RHS student protest against the teachers, and a flurry of e-mails to RHS administration from the public. Real party in interest, Jurupa Unified School District (the District), dismissed Crawford on the grounds that her conduct was “immoral” and showed that she was “evidently unfit for service” under Education Code section 44932. Defendant-respondent, the Commission on Public Competence of the Jurupa Unified School District (CPC), upheld Crawford’s dismissal, as did the trial court. On appeal, Crawford suggested there were three fixed categories of conduct that constituted "immoral conduct" as a matter of law, and her conduct did not fit into any of them. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "A teacher’s conduct is therefore 'immoral' under [Education Code] section 44932 (a)(1) when it negatively affects the school community in a way that demonstrates the teacher is 'unfit to teach.'" The Court affirmed the trial court's finding that the weight of the evidence supported CPC's finding that Crawford engaged in immoral conduct and was evidently unfit to serve. View "Crawford v. Comm. on Prof. Competence etc." on Justia Law

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The California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000; CEQA) requires public universities to mitigate the environmental impacts of their growth and development, including student enrollment increases. To ensure that the University of California “sufficiently mitigate significant off-campus impacts related to campus growth and development,” the University is required periodically to develop a comprehensive, long-range development plan for each campus, based on the academic goals and projected enrollment. (Ed. Code 67504(a)(1).) The plan must be analyzed in an environmental impact report (EIR). A 2005 EIR that analyzed a development plan and projected enrollment increases for the U.C. Berkeley campus. Opponents claimed the University violated CEQA by increasing enrollment well beyond the growth projected in the 2005 EIR without conducting any further environmental review. The trial court ruled in favor of the University. The court of appeal reversed. Section 21080.09 does not shield public universities from complying with CEQA when they make discretionary decisions to increase enrollment levels. Opponents adequately pled that respondents made substantial changes to the original project that trigger the need for a subsequent or supplemental EIR. The court stated that its decision did not constitute an enrollment “cap.” View "Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) granted University Professional and Technical Employees' (UPTE's) petition for unit modification to add a new classification, systems administrators, into a preexisting bargaining unit. The University of California refused to bargain over the terms and conditions of employment for systems administrators. PERB granted UPTE's unfair practice charge against the University. The University appealed, arguing that the systems administrator classification did not share a community of interest with the existing bargaining unit as required under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (Gov. Code 3560) and that PERB erred in not requiring proof of majority support by the unrepresented systems administrators subject to the unit modification petition.The court of appeal denied the petition. PERB’s finding that a community of interest exists is supported by substantial evidence. The job descriptions reflect a similarity in “common skills” and “job duties” between systems administrators and employees in the unit. The University fails to cite any evidence suggesting a disparity between the job descriptions and the employees’ actual skill sets. PERB properly counted the number of systems administrators at the time the petition was filed; PERB’s holding that it lacked the discretion to require proof of majority support from UPTE was not clearly erroneous. View "Regents of the University of California v. Public Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law