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California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB)
United Educators of San Francisco v. CA Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (2015) Case No. S235903 – California Supreme Court Update
Member(s) Involved: San Francisco Unified School District
Current status and/or outcome:
On Jan. 16, 2020, the California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision and held that Unemployment Insurance Code section 1253.3 does not bar public school employees from collecting unemployment benefits if the summer session constitutes an “academic term.” The Court did not determine whether the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) employees were actually eligible for unemployment benefits, as it found that the record from the lower court contained little evidence of whether San Francisco USD’s summer school session should be defined as an “academic term.” The Court sent the case back to the lower court to allow the district and union to present evidence on the characteristics of the district’s summer session. While the Court’s decision means that some school districts employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits during the summer, it is unlikely to affect most districts — few California districts appear to be running comprehensive summer programs across all grade levels, with district-level supervision and funding. Districts that are not offering an “academic term” in the summer under the Court’s definition should not be affected by the Court’s decision.
Importance of statewide issue:
Paying unemployment benefits over the summer would present a significant financial burden to school districts.
Summary of the case:
This case involved the interpretation of the California Unemployment Insurance Code section 1253.3(b) and (c), which states that unemployment benefits “are not payable to any individual … during the period between two successive academic years or terms … 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.” In 2011, a group of 26 members of the UESF (substitute teachers and paraprofessional classified employees) applied for unemployment benefits for the period of time between May 27 and August 15. Based on the plain meaning of the statute, the superior court ruled that substitute teachers, 10-month classified employees and school employees who do not work all 12 months are not eligible for unemployment benefits during the summer months when school is normally not in session, and rejected the union’s argument that summer school session should be seen as part of an academic year or term.

The superior court also invalidated a previous California Unemployment Insurance Administrative Board decision which held that a school-term substitute employee who is available, eligible and on a list to work during summer school is eligible for unemployment benefits if they are unable to get a summer school position.

The ELA filed its amicus brief in November 2015, in support of San Francisco USD’s favorable trial court ruling that working during the District’s summer school session does not override the prohibition against receiving benefits per Unemployment Insurance Code 1253.3. On June 6, 2016, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision. In upholding the superior court’s ruling and finding that summer school is not an “academic term” or “year,” the appellate court cited to the ELA’s amicus brief, noting that the California Department of Education treats the traditional academic calendar to mean the period when school is regularly in session for all students, and does not include summer school. Justice Dondero wrote, “[w]e are not unsympathetic to the loss of wages incurred during periods of academic hiatus. However, in effect what the claimants in this case are requesting is that the government should provide them with a full year’s income because they have agreed to work and be paid for only 41 weeks each year.”

The ELA filed its amicus brief with the Supreme Court on April 24, 2017.