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Ruling of "Fair" on Consent Decree Not Enough when Third Party Impacted

On August 10, 2012 in Reed v. United Teachers Los Angeles (California Courts of Appeal– 2nd District, No. B230817), the court held that a fairness hearing is not sufficient to approve a consent decree that affects the rights of a third party and that the third party is entitled to a decision on the merits.

In Reed, a collective bargaining agreement between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the teachers insisted the agreement stated that all layoffs were to be done on the basis of seniority. When student representative groups sued the LAUSD claiming that the layoffs infringed on their right to equal education, the parties settled the case by forming a consent decree which addressed how the layoffs would be carried out. As a result of a fairness hearing, that was objected to by the United Teacher of Los Angeles (UTLA), the trial court approved the decree, deeming it fair.

The UTLA then contested this result, asserting that it was entitled to a decision on the merits because the decree had the ability to affect seniority rights of the UTLA. The LAUSD and the teachers claimed that the fairness hearing was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process.

The Courts of Appeal reversed and remanded the ruling of the trial court in approving the decree. The court held that since the decree impacted the rights of the UTLA, a ruling on the merits was required and a fairness hearing was not enough to satisfy due process.

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