Teachers obtain final judgment in backpay

12 June 2023
Jeffrey Geisinger
Teachers obtain final judgment in backpay

Teachers obtain final judgment for more than $1.48 million in backpay in legal dispute that has lasted over a decade.

The Law Firm of Green Haines Sgambati L.P.A. has been honored to represent the Career and Technical Association (“CATA”) in its successful litigation against the Auburn Vocational School District Board of Education (“Board”). CATA is a union and local affiliate of the Ohio Education Association. It represents the employees of the Board, including teachers.

Since 2011, CATA and the Board have been engaged in protracted litigation that recently came to an end when the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the Board’s final appeal and denied the Board’s motion for reconsideration. As a result, the lower court’s decision in favor of CATA will stand. The final judgment affects dozens of teachers and awards more than $1.48 million in backpay.

The litigation arose out of the Board’s refusal to pay teachers an “Eighth Period Stipend” in violation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. As the name suggests, the “Eighth Period Stipend” was intended to compensate teachers for the extra work that they performed during an additional eighth period of duties. Historically, some teachers were assigned to duties during every period of the student day, while other teachers were not. The teachers who were assigned to duties during every period received a ten-percent stipend. The other teachers, who were not assigned to duties, received planning periods during the student day.

When CATA and the Board entered into their collective bargaining agreement in 2009, they included a provision in the agreement specifically titled “Eighth Period Stipend.” The provision was intended to memorialize the parties’ past practice of paying the ten-percent stipend to teachers who were assigned to duties during every period of the student day.

In 2011, the Board started advancing a new interpretation of the Eighth Period Stipend. Contrary to the parties’ past practice, the Board began arguing that the stipend was merely designed to compensate teachers for the lack of a planning period, rather than the extra period of additional duties. In an effort to avoid paying the stipend, the Board created a new planning period at the beginning of the teacher workday before the start of school. The new planning period occurred outside of the student day. After the Board created the planning period, it continued to assign teachers to duties during every period of the student day, but the Board began refusing to pay these teachers the ten-percent stipend to which they were entitled under the CBA.

After exhausting the grievance procedure, CATA brought suit for violation of the collective bargaining agreement in the court of common pleas for Lake County, Ohio. The parties’ CBA did not provide for binding arbitration, so CATA was forced to file suit in court. The Board tried to deny CATA access to the courts by arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case because it involved the violation of a CBA. The Board argued that a violation of this nature was subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the State Employment Relations Board, which is the state agency charged with regulating collective bargaining laws for public sector employees. The trial court rejected the Board’s challenge to jurisdiction and held that CATA was allowed to bring suit in court. The court also rejected the Board’s new interpretation of the Eighth Period Stipend. Consistent with past practice, the court held that the teachers were entitled to payment of the stipend and that the Board’s refusal to pay the teachers was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

The trial court’s judgment in favor of CATA awarded over $1.48 million in backpay for ten years’ worth of damages. On appeal, the Eleventh District Court upheld the trial court’s decision and its exercise of jurisdiction over the case. The Board tried to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, but the Ohio Supreme Court declined to accept the case for further review. Accordingly, the judgment in favor of CATA and its teachers is now final. The final judgment is a tremendous victory for the teachers who have been wrongfully denied proper compensation for more than a decade. Moreover, the courts’ decisions on subject matter jurisdiction provide important precedent for the right to go to court for the violation of a collective bargaining agreement where the contract does not provide for final and binding arbitration. The final judgment and judicial opinions in this case are an excellent outcome for CATA, its teachers, and public sector employees in general. Our Firm is certainly proud to have been able to work with CATA and its members to protect their rights and obtain this result.

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