By Robert W. Burns & Anthony J. Steffek
In a resounding success for Wisconsin school districts, another attempt by the Wisconsin Education Association Council to use the courts to re-insert pre-Act 10 collectively bargained terms into individual teaching contracts has been rejected.
In Marks, et al. v. Board of Education of the Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, Wood County Case No. 14-CV-205, three teachers, represented by attorneys employed by WEAC, claimed their individual teaching contracts were illegal for three reasons. First, they claimed that a for-cause termination standard is inherent in all individual teaching contracts, deeming the arbitrary and capricious standard in their contracts illegal. Second, they argued that by reserving the right to change employee benefits during the contract term, the District failed to fix their wages in violation of Wis. Stat. § 118.21. Finally, they asserted that the nonrenewal of an individual teaching contract is a termination to which the District’s grievance procedure under Wis. Stat. § 66.0509 applies.
The Court, Portage County Circuit Judge Robert J. Shannon, presiding, rejected each of the plaintiffs’ claims. He first held that no Wisconsin law (statute, case law, or otherwise) provides teachers with a mandatory for-cause termination protection. Rather, he agreed with the District’s argument that the parties are free to decide upon a termination standard and embody it in the individual teaching contract. Any for-cause standard previously held by teachers was a creature of collective bargaining, and had the legislature ever intended to mandate such a standard, it would have done so.
Next, Judge Shannon held that benefits are not “wages,” as that term is used in Wis. Stat. § 118.21, as no law has ever stated as such. Employee benefits, therefore, need not be fixed, and the legislature must have intended to provide school districts with the ability to negotiate benefits on an individual basis. The plaintiffs’ individual teaching contracts, therefore, do not violate Wis. Stat. § 118.21.
Finally, Judge Shannon squarely rejected the notion that teacher nonrenewals are grievable under Wis. Stat. § 66.0509. Again relying on legislative intent and statutory construction, he found it clear that the Wisconsin legislature did not intend for Section 66.0509 to apply to nonrenewals, as it did not specify as such. To decide otherwise, according to Judge Shannon, would deem Wis. Stat. § 118.22 and its specific nonrenewal procedures meaningless, an untenable result.
WEAC chose to not appeal this decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, likely deciding against the risk of an unfavorable appellate outcome that would set statewide precedent. This decision is largely consistent with the holdings in a prior WEAC challenge which was similarly rejected in Catherine Allen-Schneider et al v. Board of Education of the Howard-Suamico School District, venued in Brown County. Both Districts were represented by Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.
If you have any questions about this article, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney or the authors, Robert W. Burns, 920.431.2224 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Anthony J. Steffek, at 920.431.2237 / email@example.com.
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