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Brannum v. District of Columbia Public Schools

April 10, 2008

ROBERT V. BRANNUM, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS, RESPONDENT.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings (ES-P-05-102511).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Argued October 31, 2006

Before RUIZ and FISHER, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

Robert Brannum, a substitute teacher with the D.C. Public Schools ("DCPS"), seeks review of the decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH") reversing the determination of the Claims Examiner that found him eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. Petitioner argues that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in concluding that he had received "reasonable assurance" of reemployment with DCPS that disqualified him from receiving unemployment compensation benefits.

We conclude that the evidence of record -- the mere inclusion of petitioner's name on a master list of available substitute teachers -- does not offer substantial support for a finding that petitioner had reasonable assurance of reemployment. Therefore, we reverse and remand the case to OAH with directions to award the unemployment compensation benefits due to petitioner under the law. See D.C. Code § 51-107 (2001).

I. FACTS

Petitioner was employed by DCPS as a substitute teacher during the 2004-2005 school year, ending in June 2005. After the 2004-2005 school year ended, petitioner applied to the Department of Employment Services for unemployment compensation benefits. On August 23, 2005, the Claims Examiner issued a Determination finding petitioner eligible for compensation benefits. Specifically, the Claims Examiner held that "[i]t has been determined that the claimant . . . was laid off for lack of work from employ[er] and is, accordingly, eligible for unemployment compensation benefits." DCPS appealed the Claims Examiner's Determination finding petitioner eligible to the OAH.

At the hearing before the ALJ, Valerie Sheppard, Director of Staffing and Employment Services at DCPS, testified that to be employed as a substitute teacher, "[t]he individual must have received a substitute [teacher] license from the Office of Academic Credentials[, which] is a two-year license [that] allows them to operate as a substitute teacher within the District of Columbia." Applicants who are licensed*fn1 are included in "a database that list[s] the names and contact information for these individuals that [is] share[d] with the schools." Ms. Sheppard tesified that the number of persons in the database differs from year to year "depending on the need," and that, for example, at the height of the 2004-2005 school year "the list was about 450 people at which time we cut it off."*fn2

Once a substitute teacher is placed on the list, DCPS, through its Human Resources Division, "talk[s to the teacher] about . . . expectations[,]" but as far as securing employment for the substitute, Ms. Sheppard testified, "[W]e don't solicit placements for [teachers]." If a school has a need, "[t]he principal or someone on his or her staff, if they don't already have a copy of the list at the school, would contact [the Division of Human Resources at DCPS]." The Human Resources Division, in turn, provides the school with a list of all the substitute teachers who are currently available, but it is up to the school to "contact those individuals and schedule for someone to come in and serve in the capacity for the teacher that is out for that period." Ms. Sheppard stated that all substitute teachers enter the system in this manner.

Petitioner testified that he had at least one long-term assignment during the 2004-2005 school year. Petitioner and Ms. Sheppard both testified that a "long-term" assignment is defined as being "in . . . one classroom[,] . . . in one school, [with]. . . the same students, . . . for 11 [or] more days." Although Ms. Sheppard disagreed with the label "long-term," she agreed with petitioner that once a substitute teacher reaches the eleven-day mark, there is a change in pay, "but there is no designation that says that you . . . [will] remain with that classroom through the end of the year." The ALJ order, however, referred to petitioner's assignment as "long-term."

Petitioner's name remained on the list after the school term ended in June 2005, but the record is silent as to whether petitioner had reapplied to be on the list at the end of the school year, or whether his name was automatically kept on the list because his two-year license was still valid. See note 1, supra. The record is devoid of any indication regarding what, if anything, DCPS communicated to petitioner at the conclusion of the 2004-2005 school year, either with respect to his performance during that school year, or DCPS's expectations with respect to the coming school term.

Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the ALJ found that petitioner's "presence on the substitute teacher list gives him as much assurance over the summer months as he had during the school term that he would be employed." The ALJ reversed the decision of the Claims Examiner and found appellant ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. Petitioner now seeks review of the OAH decision.

II. ANALYSIS

"This court must affirm an OAH decision when . . . substantial evidence supports each finding" of fact. Rodriguez v. Filene's Basement Inc., 905 A.2d 177, 180 (D.C. 2006). Petitioner argues that OAH's decision disqualifying him from benefits must be reversed because it is not supported by substantial evidence that DCPS had provided him with a "reasonable assurance" of reemployment so as to render him ineligible for unemployment ...


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