Court decision states District Office broke labor laws, concealed specifics

By Anthony Kinney, Associate Editor

The Contra Costa Community College District is laying the groundwork to appeal the Public Employment Relations Board’s court decision in the United Faculty’s two unfair labor practice claims filed against the district in November 2016. 

Administrative Law Judge Donn Ginoza’s ruling, which was issued Dec. 29, 2017, states in part, “the Contra Costa Community College District violated the Education Employment Relations Act … by failing to provide necessary and relevant information in response to requests by the United Faculty.”

District Director of Communications and Community Relations Tim Leong said the PERB’s decision was erroneous and if not overturned, will cause students to become even more reluctant to voice complaints against faculty members seeing that they will now be able to view students’ complaints and identify their accusers.

The UF’s claim accused the district of unlawfully keeping pertinent information from an accused faculty member and their union representative, arguing the case that the district’s practices leave employees unprepared and often intimidated during misconduct investigation interviews and hearings.

However, the district believes its policy of withholding the contents of student complaints from faculty promotes student confidentiality and prevents possible retaliation from faculty members accused of misconduct.

Ultimately, the judge ruled in the UF’s favor, deeming the confidentiality aspect of the district’s defense as “unpersuasive” and demanding that the district “cease and desist from failing and refusing to provide a copy of complaints” to alleged staff members and their union representatives.

“The union and employee need to know the nature and scope of the accusations: that is, what will and will not be the subject of the inquiry,” Judge Ginoza wrote in his ruling. “The United Faculty has demonstrated that the information contained in the written complaints (is) necessary and relevant.”

Leong said the district believes it acted appropriately according to the law and filed a “Statement of Exceptions and Brief” with the PERB appealing the decision.

“The desired outcome is that the court recognizes that it is outrageous to turn over discrimination complaints to union representatives prior to any investigation taking place,” Leong said.

“We believe the law and prior decisions support that decision and that the current ruling will be overturned on appeal.”

United Faculty Vice President Jeffrey Michels said the appeal could draw out the parties’ legal dispute for another two months to two years.

“They’ve appealed, we’ve responded, now we wait,” he said.

However, in the meantime, Chancellor Fred Wood has agreed to assemble a workgroup consisting of representatives from district human resources, the UF and the chancellor, to review and revise current investigation procedures.

Additionally, the judge also disagreed with the district’s claim that giving accused faculty members the ability to prepare for interviews compromises the integrity of the investigation by granting them the opportunity to fabricate their account of the incident.

In his ruling, he noted that the withholding of basic information before an investigation interview hinders the union’s ability to “place the controversy in context and identify mitigating circumstances.”

Michels said prior to the recent ruling, UF representatives or the accused faculty member, were prohibited from accessing the full investigative report during or after the investigation concludes.

He said he strongly believes student confidentiality should be treated with the utmost importance, but he thinks it wasn’t fair that union representatives were unable to see the complaints filed against their members in order to appropriately advise and represent them during allegation meetings.

During the PERB hearing, the district called for the testimony of a statewide Student Senate representative to be heard in the district’s defense, but that motion was denied by Judge Ginoza, who labeled the statement not relevant to the two specific unfair labor claims being addressed.

The district plans to abide by the court’s decision pending the appeal, however officials are still reviewing options on how to best protect students should its appeal get dismissed, Leong said.