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Court Rejects Challenges to Teacher Layoffs: Proper Teacher Evaluation Procedures Are Essential

By Kurt M. Graham / Oct 23, 2013

In Garden City Education Ass'n v. School District of the City of Garden City , Docket 12-14886 (E.D. Mich. 2013) a U.S. District Court dismissed claims filed by the Garden City Education Association and two tenured teachers alleging violations of constitutional due process rights as well as Sections 1248 and 1249 of the Michigan Revised School Code.  Plaintiffs' claims arose from layoff decisions made by the school district in June 2012 based on results from annual teacher evaluations mandated by Section 1249.  Plaintiffs requested lost salaries and benefits, plus interest, costs and attorney's fees, and an injunctive order directing the school district to immediately discontinue use of the evaluation instruments and remove all 2011-2012 evaluation materials from all teacher files.

The Court dismissed the Section 1249 claims due to lack of standing, finding the Michigan Legislature did not create a private cause of action.  The Court then stated that while Section 1248 permits a teacher to bring a private cause of action for a violation of that statute, the "sole and exclusive remedy" for such a violation is an order of reinstatement, not economic damages.  Further, Section 1248 does not allow a union to file suit on behalf of a teacher, and even if it did, there was no dispute that all of the teachers laid off in June 2012 were recalled.  Since the laid off teachers were already recalled and they had no entitlement to economic damages pursuant to Section 1248, the Plaintiffs' claim was dismissed.

Finally, the Court rejected the Plaintiffs' due process claim stating due process is not required for a tenured teacher who is laid off unless the reduction in personnel is not bona fide . The Plaintiffs never alleged or argued that the school district's reduction in personnel was not bona fide , nor did they claim their layoffs were a subterfuge to avoid protections of the Teachers' Tenure Act.  Since there was no evidence suggesting that the matter involved anything more than a necessary reduction in personnel, there was no violation of due process rights.

It is likely that the Court's decision will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  In the meantime, the case serves as a reminder that labor organizations and aggrieved teachers will vigorously challenge any layoff decisions made as a result of teacher evaluations. Therefore, it remains critical that school districts:  (1)  ensure they fully comply with the terms of Section 1249 in completing their teacher evaluations; and (2)  adopt and follow all applicable Board policies and administrative guidelines to ensure they have a defensible position before the Teacher Tenure Commission or court in the event a teacher layoff decision is alleged to be a subterfuge, or otherwise made in bad faith.  If you have any questions about the impact of this decision on your school district, or questions about the teacher evaluation process please call your Clark Hill Education Law attorney.