United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) is the exclusive representative of the certificated and classified paraprofessional employees of the San Francisco Unified School District ("District"). Employees are not paid for summer months unless they are hired for the summer session or perform special tasks over the summer. The 2010-2011 school year ended May 27, 2011, and the next school year was set to start on August 15, 2011. There was a summer school session during June and July. There was no instruction at all between May 27 and June 9, or July 14 and August 15.

The UESF members involved in this case filed for unemployment benefits between May 27, 2011 and August 15, 2011. The EDD denied their benefits. The employees appealed to an Administrative Law Judge, who ruled they were in fact entitled to benefits, but then the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ("Board") reversed the ALJ. The Board also held, however, that for employees who had been retained the prior summer session and had a reasonable expectation of employment for the 2011 summer session, those claimants could receive benefits during the weeks the summer session was actually in session and they were not working. UESF filed a writ arguing the summer session was an "academic term" and so the employees were entitled to benefits all summer, and the District cross-filed, alleging that the Board was wrong to determine that those who worked the prior summer could receive benefits during the summer session.

During the appeal process, the Board adopted a precedent benefit decision called Brady, which held that substitute teachers who are qualified and eligible for work during a summer session are not "on recess" and are therefore eligible for unemployment benefits. The District amended its complaint to allege that Brady was wrongly decided. The trial court decided the employees were not entitled to unemployment benefits and agreed that Brady had been wrongly decided. The UESF and Board appealed.

The court of appeal analyzed the legislative history of the Unemployment Insurance Code section at issue in the case (section 1253.3) and highlighted that the law was amended specifically to ensure it was consistent with a related federal law that summertime benefits were not available to employees who had guarantees of employment for the following school year. The UESF also argued that a 2005 superior court case that held a summer session was in fact an "academic term" should have a binding effect on the court. Here, however, the court disagreed and said that case did not have binding effect, as it only pertained to the weeks a summer session was actually in session, and it failed to consider the federal law that was at the heart of the amendments to the relevant California code section.

The court interpreted section 1253.3 and explained that the dispute between the parties was over the meaning of "academic years or terms." UESF argued that the summer session is an academic term for purposes of this code section, and so since the employees did not have an offer for that term, they were entitled to benefits, despite their offer for the school year starting in August. The Board argued that employees who had a reasonable expectation of employment for the summer session should be entitled to benefits during that session only, but not during the weeks before and after the summer session.

The court disagreed with both UESF and the Board, and found through an analysis of the plain meaning of the statutes, that summer sessions are not academic terms. Therefore, none of the claimants were eligible for benefits during the summer. The court discussed a wide array of out-of-state jurisdictions who had reached the same conclusion.

The court also agreed that the Brady decision should be invalidated. Even if an employee were available to work in the summer, he or she would not be entitled to unemployment benefits. The employees are on vacation during the summer, not unemployed. Unemployment insurance benefits serve the purpose of aiding people who suffered an unexpected job loss, not to provide extra income for an employee who has agreed to work during school years only.

Note:

Although this case concerns public school employees, the same rationale should apply to a private school educator who is on a 10-month contract and has received a contract for the following school year two months later. For employees on 12-month contracts, there is no issue because they are technically employed during the summer and are receiving paychecks. Schools should be aware of the risks and benefits associated with 10 and 12 month contracts.

United Educators of San Francisco AFT/CFT, AFL-CIO, NEA/CTA v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and San Francisco Unified School District, (2016) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ---, 2016 WL 3157324.