Community College Districts' Authority to Revoke Reappointment Rights Is Governed by Negotiated Provisions of Collective Bargaining Agreements Rather than Statutory Right to Terminate Temporary Faculty

Education Code section 87482.9 makes the question of earning and retaining annual reappointment rights a mandatory subject of bargaining with respect to temporary, part-time faculty in community college districts. Pursuant to Section 87482.9, Santa Monica Community College District entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Santa Monica College Faculty Association that granted part-time, temporary faculty who have taught at least five consecutive semesters a preferential status as "associate faculty." Under the bargaining agreement, that status can be revoked only upon written notice and, as relevant here, where the faculty member is guilty of misconduct.

Associate faculty status confers several rights on part-time, temporary faculty under the agreement: (1) the right to be re-employed for both the Fall and Spring semesters as long as the need for the assignments for which the associate faculty member is qualified continues; and (2) the right to preferential assignments based on seniority vis-à-vis other associate faculty and to priority generally over part-time faculty without associate faculty status.

The District received complaints of misconduct by three part-time faculty members, all of whom were "associate faculty" under the collective bargaining agreement. Accordingly, in March 2011, the District informed them that their associate faculty status would be terminated at the end of the Spring 2011 semester and that they would not receive additional teaching assignments. The District further informed them that the District's non-renewal of their temporary employment was due to their failure to perform the normal and reasonable duties of their assignments and because they were guilty of misconduct.

The three faculty members filed grievances contesting the revocation of their associate faculty status because, in their view, they were not guilty of any qualifying misconduct. The grievances proceeded to three separate arbitrators, and the District took the position that the bargaining agreement obligated the District only to give written notice of its decision to revoke associate faculty status, and not to prove up the actual misconduct underlying the decision. The District therefore did not present evidence to substantiate its findings of misconduct. Each of the arbitrators concluded that the bargaining agreement's requirement that a part-time temporary faculty member be guilty of misconduct implied a requirement that the District's finding have some evidentiary basis. The arbitrators ordered the faculty members reinstated as associate faculty members retroactive to the date of removal as well as back pay and benefits.

The District filed a petition to correct or vacate all three arbitration awards. After a series of procedural issues were resolved, the trial court granted the district's petition. It determined that the arbitrators' conclusions that the collective bargaining agreement required the District to substantiate its findings of misconduct conflicted with Education Code section 87665's mandate that community college districts have unreviewable authority to terminate temporary college faculty. The faculty association appealed.

Although courts will generally not review the validity of an arbitrator's reasoning or review for errors of fact and law, according to the appellate court, judicial review was appropriate in this case because the District's statutory rights were implicated, presenting an exceptional circumstance. The appellate court affirmed the arbitrators' conclusions that the language, "guilty of misconduct" connotes a finding that misconduct actually occurred, finding that it was "not completely irrational." The Court then considered two questions: (1) Do Sections 87665 and 87482.9 irreconcilably conflict; and (2) If they do, which statute controls?

As the appellate court explained, different categories of community college faculty enjoy different degrees of statutory protection. Temporary employees have the least protection: Education Code section 87665 provides that the governing board may terminate the employment of a temporary employee at its discretion at the end of a day or week, whichever is appropriate. The decision to terminate employment is not subject to judicial review except as to the time of termination.

The Court concluded that Sections 87665 and 87482.9 are not in conflict because termination and the revocation of reemployment rights are not the same procedures. The Court relied on prior California decisions addressing the same issue in the K-12 setting, although it recognized that revocation of reappointment rights can, as it did in this case, effectively result in a part-time temporary employee's loss of employment. The Court added that even if it were to conclude that the two statutes were in conflict, it would apply principals of statutory interpretation to find that Section 87665 would not prevail over Section 87482.9 because Section 87482.9 is both the later-enacted and more specific statute.

Finally, the Court concluded that because Sections 87482.9 and 87665 can be harmonized (and, alternatively, because Section 87482.9 would control even if harmonization were impossible), the District was obligated to adhere to the requirements it negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement pursuant to Section 87482.9. The Court, therefore, reversed the trial court's order vacating the arbitration awards. It emphasized that districts retain the power to terminate part-time, temporary faculty rather than revoke any preferential reappointment status earned under the terms of a negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Districts may not, however, "mix and match" by revoking a faculty member's status conferring a right to reappointment without following the terms of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated on that topic.

Santa Monica College Faculty Association v. Santa Monica Community College District (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 538.