Thursday, April 07, 2011

Sullivan v. Centinela Valley Union High School District (Cal. Ct. App. - April 7, 2011)

Michael Sullivan was a probationary teacher at Hawthorne High School and taught business classes.  The District decided not to retain him (i.e., grant him "tenure"), and had a deadline to formally tell him that by March 15.

On March 10, the District's HR Director called Sullivan into a meeting and told him that the District would recommend to the Board of Education that he not be retained.  Sullivan was bummed.  He called in sick on March 11 and 12.

On March 13, the Board formally met to consider Sullivan's reappointment.  The District indeed said that it didn't want him anymore.  Sullivan showed up and asked to be reappointed.  Also appearing on Sullivan's behalf was his "friend" Milton Kerlan, Jr, who also spoke.  And who just so happens to be an attorney.  But Sullivan saw the writing on the wall once the Board went back into deliberate.  So ditched the meeting at that point, and stepped outside the room.

Which meant that when the Board returned to deliver the bad news, they couldn't give Sullivan "notice" of its decision.  They told his attorney friend, Milton Kerlan.  But he later said that he didn't "represent" Sullivan, so that's allegedly not formal notice either.

But Sullivan knows he's going to be served with notice the next day at school.  So on March 14, he again calls in sick.  So the Board sends him a certified letter.  There's precedent that says that if you refuse to sign for a certified letter, that counts as notice.  So Sullivan doesn't do that.  Instead, he stays away from his house on March 15th, and has Rita Sullivan sign for the letter.  Which Sullivan reads on March 16th, one day after the notification deadline.

At which point Sullivan says that Milton wasn't his attorney, Rita wasn't authorized to accept service on his behalf, and that since he wasn't formally notified by March 16th, he's automatically granted tenure.

Creative legal mind.  The dude should go to law school.

Except if he did, he'd know that this won't work.  Not even close.  The trial court says that when you evade formal notice like this, failure to notify you after the deadline doesn't grant you tenure.  The Court of Appeal affirms.  In a case that's totally easy.

There's a fine line between knowing the law and "knowing" the law.  This is a perfect example.  Anyone who knew the law -- e.g., a good attorney -- would tell you how this one would undeniably come out.