Landmark Cervisi decision turns 25: Part-time faculty won unemployment benefits

In 1989, the San Francisco Community College Federation won a landmark legal victory that provides unemployment benefits to many faculty members during layoffs.

In Cervisi v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board the California Court of Appeals agreed with AFT Local 2121 that a teaching assignment contingent on enrollment, funding, program changes or bumping by a full-time faculty member is not a “reasonable assurance” of employment, and that part-time temporary instructors may therefore be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Earlier faculty victories were out of court and didn’t set a legal precedent. But the state Employment Development Department and governing boards thought they could beat French instructor Gisele Cervisi and other City College of San Francisco part-time faculty laid off during the three-week winter break.

Before Cervisi, the Russ Decision held that a non-tenured, hourly instructor was not really unemployed if he or she had “reasonable assurance” their teaching position would be there after break.

“The previous standard was unreal,” said CFT attorney Bob Bezemek, who argued for Cervisi at the trial and appellate court levels. “An assignment subject to budget cuts and being bumped by employees with higher seniority was no longer enough to disqualify an unemployed teacher from receiving benefits.”

After Cervisi, Bezemek said, there was resistance to the change. “They didn’t go quietly,” he recalled.

Nonetheless, Cervisi is the law. Part-timers are eligible for unemployment benefits between terms because they do not have “reasonable assurance of reemployment.” The teacher may qualify for benefits in the periods before or after summer session, during winter break, or if the teacher does not have a summer or fall assignment, or another job.

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

> Apply for unemployment benefits through the Employment Development Department.  If the EDD denies your claim, contact your AFT local union to file a timely appeal.