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Williston Educ. Ass'n v. Williston Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 1

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 18, 2016

Williston Education Association, Plaintiff and Appellee
Williston Public School District No. 1, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Joshua B. Rustad, Judge.

Michael J. Geiermann (argued), Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Rachel A. Bruner-Kaufman (argued) and Andrew L. Askew (appeared), Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, William A. Neumann, S.J., Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice. The Honorable William A. Neumann, S.J., sitting in place of Sandstrom, J., disqualified.


Page 438

Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] The Williston Education Association (" WEA" ) sued the Williston Public School District No. 1 (" District" ) on behalf of Williston middle school teachers. The WEA claimed the District owed teachers compensation for extra classes they taught during the 2012-2013 school year. The district court awarded summary judgment in favor of the WEA. The District appeals. We reverse the summary judgment and remand for trial.

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[¶2] The WEA represents public school teachers in Williston. The WEA and the District negotiated an Agreement for the 2011-2013 school years. The Agreement contained a provision that stipulated middle school teachers who agreed to be assigned to teach more than six class periods were entitled to extra compensation. The Agreement states: " A 7-8 grade teacher who consents to be assigned more than six (6) class periods shall receive 1/7th of his/her schedule salary for the seventh class period."

[¶3] During the 2011-2012 school year, most middle school teacher's schedules consisted of five curriculum-based class periods, a team time period, a prep period, and a prime time period. During the team time period, teachers were allotted time to meet with the other teachers on their team. During their prep period, teachers were allowed to prepare for their curriculum-based class periods. During prime time, teachers facilitated what was essentially a home-base period for the students. The Agreement did not define the terms " class period," " team time," " prep period," or " prime time." In 2011-2012, three teachers gave up their prep period and taught six curriculum-based periods; they received 1/7th of their salary as extra compensation. In 2012-2013, the District amended the middle school schedule in anticipation of an influx of students. The District added a curriculum-based class period, shortened the prime time period, and discontinued team time. The teachers who received extra compensation in 2011-2012 did not receive extra compensation in 2012-2013.

[¶4] The Agreement the parties negotiated contains a provision entitled " Grievance Procedure." The grievance provision defines a grievance as " an alleged violation, interpretation or application of any specific provision of the negotiated agreement or conditions of employment." It also defines the duties of a teacher when he or she has a grievance. It states: " In the event of a grievance, the teacher shall . . . ." The provision then sets forth eight steps teachers must follow to pursue a grievance.

[¶5] The WEA sent a grievance letter to the District superintendent on behalf of the teachers. The letter asserted the District owed middle school teachers extra compensation because they were required to teach more than six classes after the District amended the schedule. The superintendent responded to the letter. She declined to review the merits of the grievance. She stated the grievance was untimely and submitted by an improper party. She asserted the grievance should have been filed by individual teachers rather than the WEA. The WEA then sent a grievance letter to the president of the District. The president responded: " The grievance received is not valid since a teacher did not file it. . . . Since WEA does not have standing on this matter there will be no further communication regarding this issue."

[¶6] The WEA then filed suit in district court; it asserted the District breached the Agreement and owed teachers additional compensation because the extra class period added in the 2012-2013 school year resulted in teachers teaching more than six class periods. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The underlying dispute was whether prime time constituted a " class period" under the terms of the Agreement. If the court interpreted " class period" to include prime time, the District would owe teachers additional compensation because they taught six or more class periods plus prime time during the 2012-2013 school year. If prime time was not a " class period," the

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majority of teachers only taught six class periods; the District would not owe ...

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