WT Wins: Labor Commissioner Accepts Employer’s Interpretation of Contested Contract

In an “Order, Decision and Award” dated February 10, 2021, Weintraub attorney Shauna Correia obtained a defense verdict on behalf of a private school in a Complaint made before the California Labor Commissioner. 

For teachers at the private school, the school typically observes a July 1 to June 30 school year; teachers are paid a salary spread over 12 months, and the month of July is typically time off.  For this reason, annual raises are often, but not always, made effective August 1, through the end of the school year.

A teacher at a private school quit her job with three days’ notice, effective after the last day of summer classes, June 28, 2019. The employer, our client, paid the teacher’s full salary through the last day worked, on the last day of work.  The employee then filed a claim before California Labor Commissioner for lost wages, wage statement violations, and late payment penalties, asserting that she was entitled to be paid to the end of July, even though she did not perform work in July. The employee claimed that the school year term was July 30 to August 1 because her “annual” salary was effective as of August 1, and pointed to language in a prior year’s written contract.  On behalf of the school, Shauna argued that the teacher was not on a written contract for the 2018-2019 school year – her employment was “at will” for the 2018-2019 school year, but, even if the Labor Commissioner deemed her previous school year contract to govern, there was no ambiguity in the agreement – the effective start and end dates were July 1 and June 30, not August 1 and July 30, separate from and irrespective of when a salary increase took effect.  Shauna also presented wage records demonstrating that the teacher was paid out for all hours worked for the entire duration of her employment. The Labor Commissioner decided in favor of the school, and decreed that the former employee take nothing.

Cases like these highlight the importance of clear language in employee offer letters, contracts and handbooks that is consistent with employers’ actual practices.