Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant,
School District No. 1 in the County of Denver and State of Colorado; and Board of Education of School District No. 1 in the County of Denver and State of Colorado, Defendants-Appellants and Cross-Appellees.
and County of Denver District Court No. 13CV34640 Honorable
Catherine A. Lemon, Judge
E. Dreyer, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee and
Semple, Farrington & Everall, P.C., M. Brent Case,
Susanne S. Kim, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellants
1 The defendants/appellants/cross-appellees in this case are
School District No. 1 and the Board of Education of School
District No. 1 in the County of Denver and State of Colorado
(collectively, the District). The
plaintiff/appellee/cross-appellant is the Denver Classroom
Teachers Association (DCTA).
2 The District appeals a jury verdict finding it liable for
breaching several collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and
a determination of damages reflected in the final judgment.
DCTA cross-appeals the special interrogatories finding that
the District did not breach certain CBAs as they pertained to
a particular group of teachers. We affirm.
3 The District and DCTA entered into several CBAs and
extensions from 2005 to 2015: the 2005-08 CBA, the 2008-11
CBA, the 2011-12 Extension, and the 2012-15 Extension. The
extensions adopted most of the CBA provisions with only a few
modifications not pertinent to this action.
4 From the mid-1990s until the 2006-07 school year, the
District compensated teachers for attending English Language
Acquisition (ELA) training. ELA is a program to train
teachers to work more effectively with students who have
limited English language proficiency. A federal consent order
requires the District to have teachers who are trained to
teach such students. After the 2006-07 school year, the
District stopped paying teachers for attending the training,
although it offered teachers who had already started the
training that year a one-time stipend of $500.
5 DCTA filed a grievance against the District alleging
violations of the 2005-08 CBA. The grievance resulted in
nonbinding arbitration. The arbitrator issued a
recommendation in favor of DCTA, but the school board elected
not to adopt the recommendation.
6 DCTA subsequently filed suit for breach of the 2005-08 and
2008-11 CBAs and the extensions, and the trial court
bifurcated the liability and damages portions of the trial. A
jury returned verdicts in favor of DCTA for breach of
contract, but it held the District not liable in special
interrogatories regarding breach for teachers in the
Professional Compensation (ProComp) system.
7 The District raises three contentions. First, it contends
that the CBAs unambiguously do not require extra compensation
for ELA training. Next, it asserts that additional evidence
pertaining to the CBAs and extensions from 2008 forward shows
that the District was not required to compensate teachers for
ELA training. Finally, the District contends the trial court
erred in failing to limit damages because (1) some of
DCTA's damages accrued beyond the statute of limitations
and (2) DCTA did not exhaust its administrative remedies for
the CBAs and extensions subsequent to 2008.
8 DCTA cross-appeals, alleging the trial court erred in
giving the jury special interrogatories asking it to
determine whether teachers in the ProComp system were
exempted from the entitlement to extra pay for ELA training.
9 We address each contention in turn.
Legal Principles of Contract Interpretation
10 Most of the issues raised by the parties involve
interpretation of the CBAs. The interpretation of a contract
is a question of law that we review de novo. Fed. Deposit
Ins. Corp. v. Fisher, 2013 CO 5, ¶ 9. In
determining whether a contractual provision is ambiguous, we
examine the language of the contract and construe it in
harmony with the plain and generally accepted meaning of the
words used. Dorman v. Petrol Aspen, Inc., 914 P.2d
909, 912 (Colo. 1996).
11 A provision is ambiguous "if it is fairly susceptible
to more than one interpretation." Id. (quoting
Fibreglas Fabricators, Inc. v. Kylberg, 799
P.2d 371, 374 (Colo. 1990)). We may consider extraneous
evidence to determine whether a contract is ambiguous.
Cheyenne Mountain Sch. Dist. No. 12 v. Thompson, 861
P.2d 711, 715 (Colo. 1993).
12 If a contract is unambiguous, it cannot be changed by
extrinsic evidence. Dorman, 914 P.2d at 911. If it
is ambiguous, it must be construed in accordance with the
intent of the parties, and we may consider extraneous
evidence to determine such intent. Id. at 911-12.
Once a contract is determined to be ambiguous, its
interpretation becomes an issue of fact. Id.
CBAs Are Ambiguous Regarding Compensation for ELA Training
13 The District contends that the CBAs and extensions are
unambiguous in their construction and that they do not
require the district to pay teachers for ELA training. We do
14 The relevant articles of the 2005-08 and 2008-11 CBAs are:
2-7: The parties recognize that the Board has the
responsibility and authority to establish policies and
regulations for the management of all the operations and
activities of the District. All lawful rights and
authority of the Board ...