Appeals Court: Tenure Commission Has No Jurisdiction in Teacher Layoff Disputes

Kacie Kefgen

By Kacie Kefgen, MASB Assistant Director of Labor Relations and Legal Services

DashBoard, March 18, 2015

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its long-awaited ruling on whether the State Tenure Commission has jurisdiction over teacher layoff disputes. In a 3-0 decision, the Court ruled that the STC has no jurisdiction over layoff claims, and that a tenured teacher’s only recourse to challenge layoff decisions is to file a complaint in a court, rather than with the STC or the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

The petitioners in this consolidated case were teachers laid off by school districts after significant legislative changes to education statutes in 2011. These teachers had filed complaints with the STC rather than in civil court. School districts appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the STC should not have jurisdiction in the cases.

Judge Henry Saad, who wrote the decision for the panel, emphasized the importance of the 2011 legislative changes made to the Revised School Code, Teacher Tenure Act and the Public Employment Relations Act, which collectively revised the state’s teacher layoff landscape. He stated that these revisions put in place a clear set of guidelines about how schools should make layoff decisions, how such decisions could be appealed and that no administrative agencies have authority to adjudicate disputes over such decisions.

Simply put, schools are to layoff teachers based on effectiveness ratings, not seniority; decisions could be appealed in a judicial court; and the STC and MERC have no jurisdiction to hear appeals of layoff decisions.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the STC’s long-held reliance on the subterfuge rationale from the 1975 Freiberg v. Board of Education case, which it had used to provide itself jurisdiction over many layoff cases.1 In such a case, tenured teachers had argued that their layoffs were, in reality, dismissals and, therefore, were under the proper purview of the STC. Judge Saad wrote that, “the statutory framework that Freiberg purported to interpret has been significantly modified, rendering that decision moot, and null and void.”

The Court reversed the STC’s previous orders in the combined cases and dismissed the petitioner’s suits.

1Freiberg v. Bd of Ed of Big Bay De Noc Sch Dist, 61 Mich App 404; 232 NW2d 718 (1975).

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