Individuals employed by a private entity under contract to operate a charter school are “public employees” for the purposes of the Taylor Law

Individuals employed by a private entity under contract to operate a charter school are “public employees” for the purposes of the Taylor Law

Buffalo United Charter School ("BUCS") and Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School ("BECS") were formed under Education Law Article 56, (the "Charter Schools Act", together with National Heritage Academies, Inc. (NHA) challenged PERB’s rulings regarding its jurisdiction over the employees providing services to these charter schools.

The Council of School of Supervisors and Administrators, Local 1, AFSA ("CSA") had petitioned PERB for certification as the collective bargaining representative for a unit of unrepresented assistant principals at BECS, while NYSUT/AFT, AFL-CIO (NYSUT) had petitioned PERB for certification as the collective bargaining representative of a unit of unrepresented instruction employees at BUCS.

In response to CSA’s a petition seeking to be certified as the collective bargaining representative of all assistant principals working for BECS, BECS and NHA filed an application with PERB seeking to have the assistant principals designated as "managerial" or "confidential" employees as those terms are defined in Civil Service Law §201(7)(a).

BUCS and BECS then advanced the theory that that PERB was prevented by its own joint public-private employment doctrine* from asserting jurisdiction over the cases and the employees at issue in view of the fact that both entities had contracts with NHA, a private, for-profit corporation, to operate the schools formed by BUCS and BECS.

These agreements, they claimed, provided that NHA was responsible for employing the staffs at BUCS and BECS. In addition, both also claim that PERB lacks jurisdiction because with respect to the employees of NHA the NLRA preempted the Taylor Law.**

PERB, on the other hand, argued that it had properly concluded that the Charter Schools Act "explicitly and implicitly makes (the Taylor Law) applicable to every New York charter school" and that PERB's "joint public-private employer relationship [doctrine] … has been superceded" by the Charter Schools Act.

According to PERB, its joint public-private employment doctrine was inconsistent with the Charter Schools Act and therefore explicitly superceded by §2854(1)(a) of the Education Law. Further, PERB contended that Education Law §2854(3)(a) provides that charter schools are public schools for purposes of the Act and that because the Legislature made no provision for an exception to this mandate, there is no authority permitting application of the joint public-private employment doctrine in this instance.

PERB also asserted that its conclusion that the Charter Schools Act does not authorize the designation of "managerial" and "confidential" employees is a proper legal conclusion and urged the Court to apply a deferential standard of review to PERB's conclusion in this regard.***

Finally, PERB argued that there is no unconstitutional impairment of the Management Agreements between NHA and its charter schools because even with PERB exercising jurisdiction over the charter school employees, NHA's role under the agreements was not materially diminished or impaired.

Justice Curran said that “The critical issue in this proceeding is whether the Charter Schools Act precludes PERB from following its own jurisprudence in applying the joint public-private employment doctrine.”

Concluding that “it is impossible to construe the joint public-private employment doctrine together with application of the Taylor Law via the provisions of the Charter Schools Act,” Justice Curran ruled that “the joint public-private employment doctrine is inconsistent with and contrary to the Charter Schools Act and therefore inapplicable to the petitioners in this action.

As to the question of “preemption” by NLRB, the court ruled that “given the unsettled federal law on this issue and the well researched analysis by PERB” it could not conclude as a matter of law that PERB's decision was arbitrary or clearly contrary to the law. Accordingly, Justice Curran determined that PERB's decision on the NLRB jurisdictional issue should not be annulled.

Turning to PERB’s decision that the specific provision of the Taylor Law authorizing a public employer to designate "managerial" or "confidential" employees the court concluded that “In applying the Taylor Law to charter schools, the Legislature did not employ any language precluding the designation of ‘managerial’ or ‘confidential’ employees.”

Accordingly, Justice Curran ruled that PERB's interpretation of Education Law §2854(3)(a) to mean that all charter schools' employees are public employees and therefore not "managerial" or "confidential," except for its chief executive officer, was overbroad and not supported by the language and structure of the Charter Schools Act.

The court then dismissed the petition filed by BECS. BECS and NHA except that with respect to PERB's ruling holding that assistant principals at BECS are neither "managerial" nor "confidential" employees. As to this determination by PERB the court annulled PERB’s decision and reinstated PERB’s Administrative Law Judge’s ruling on this point.

* PERB's joint public-private employment doctrine derives from New York Public Library v PERB (37 NY2d 752 [1975] where the Court of Appeals held: "[t]he Taylor Law applies only to employment which is unequivocally or substantially public.” In situations where the employment relationship involves joint public and private employers, PERB has declined jurisdiction on the premise that it has no jurisdiction unless each of the joint employers is itself a public employer.

** BUCS and BECS also argued that PERB erroneously found that the Charter Schools Act prevents the designation of the assistant principals at issue as "managerial" or "confidential." The assistant principals, according to petitioners, are members of the executive team at these charter schools and therefore PERB wrongly denied their "managerial" or "confidential" status.

*** PERB had earlier reversed its ALJ’s designating such individuals “managerial” or “confidential.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at: