Court of Appeal Finds Teacher Statutes Are Constitutional

April 2016

In an unanimous decision, the California Court of Appeal has determined that state laws regarding teacher tenure, teacher dismissal and teacher layoff do not violate the equal protection clause of California’s Constitution. (Vergara v. State of California (4/14/14, Case. No. B258589).)  

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2012 on behalf of nine public school students who claimed that state laws granting tenure to teachers after only two years of service, mandating a lengthy and complex teacher dismissal process and requiring layoffs by seniority, violated the California Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the laws.  The students asserted that, collectively, the statutes resulted in “grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment” and that those teachers were disproportionately located in schools serving predominately low-income and minority students.  

In June 2014, the Los Angeles County Superior court found the students met their burden of proof on all issues presented.  In his 16-page ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu concluded that the statutes “impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”

Reversing Judge Treu’s decision, the Court of Appeal stated that the students failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, “primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students.”  It noted that “although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach.”  The court explained that the challenged statutes “do not inevitably cause poor and minority students to receive an unequal, deficient education.  With respect to students, the challenged statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth.”  

The Court of Appeal concluded that with no proper showing of a constitutional violation, it was without power to strike down the challenged statutes, adding that “the court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are ‘a good idea.’”

The plaintiffs have indicated that they will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.  It is unclear as to whether the ruling will impact current pending legislation (Assembly Bill 934) that proposes significant revisions to the challenged statutes.

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F3 NewsFlash prepared by Roy A. Combs, Kimberly A. Smith and John W. Norlin.
Roy is a Partner in the F3 Oakland office.
Kimberly is a Partner in the F3 Los Angeles office.
John is Special Counsel in the F3 San Diego office.

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