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, Petitioners
Denver Classroom Teachers Association. Respondent
Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Case No. 15CA0965
Attorneys for Petitioners: Semple, Farrington & Everall,
P.C. M. Brent Case Jonathan P. Fero Denver, Colorado
Attorney for Respondent: Sharyn E. Dreyer Denver, Colorado
¶1 The English Learning Acquisition (ELA) program aims
to assist students who have limited English language
proficiency. A federal court's Consent Order requires
School District No. 1 in Denver and its Board of Education
(collectively "the District") to staff teachers who
are "fully qualified" to teach English language
learners. Starting in the mid-1990s, the District compensated
its teachers for ELA training. But the District discontinued
that practice after the 2006-07 school year.
Believing that the decision to stop paying teachers for ELA
training violated a series of the parties' Collective
Bargaining Agreements (CBAs),  the Denver Classroom Teachers
Association (DCTA) pursued a grievance against the District
that was referred to nonbinding arbitration and resulted in a
recommendation in favor of the DCTA. Because the District
declined to adopt that recommendation, however, the DCTA
brought this suit asserting a breach-of-contract claim
against the District. The trial court ruled that the relevant
provisions of the CBAs are ambiguous and that their
interpretation was, therefore, an issue of fact for the jury.
The jury, in turn, found the District liable for breach of
contract and awarded damages to the DCTA. A division of the
court of appeals subsequently affirmed the judgment of the
trial court. We now affirm the judgment of the court of
appeals, albeit on slightly different grounds.
We conclude that the interpretation of the CBAs was properly
submitted as an issue of fact to the jury because the CBAs
are ambiguous regarding payment for ELA training. We are
mindful that the management rights clause in the CBAs confers
to the District broad rights that are constrained only by
express terms to the contrary. But because the CBAs are
fairly susceptible to being interpreted as expressly
requiring compensation for ELA training, we cannot conclude
that the management rights clause includes the right to
refuse to pay for ELA training. This is not a situation in
which the CBAs are silent on the issue of compensation for
ELA training. Therefore, we disagree with the District that
our decision in City and County of Denver v. Denver
Firefighters Local No. 858 (Denver
Firefighters), 2014 CO 15, 320 P.3d 354, is dispositive.
Because Denver Firefighters is factually
distinguishable, it is of no avail to the District.
Facts and Procedural History
The District is responsible for educating at least 30, 000
students whose first language is not English. Under a federal
court's Consent Order, the District is required to employ
"fully qualified" teachers for these students. The
District's teachers must do one of two things to become
fully qualified: (1) get a state endorsement to teach English
language learners (by obtaining a state-approved master's
degree), or (2) complete ELA training within two years of
being hired. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the District paid
its teachers for ELA training. But in 2008, the District
decided it would no longer do so. In lieu of compensation,
the District began to offer teachers academic course credit
for ELA training.
Unhappy with this change in policy, the DCTA pursued a
grievance. Following nonbinding arbitration proceedings that
culminated in a recommendation that was favorable to the DCTA
but was rejected by the District, the DCTA brought this suit
for breach of contract. Before trial, the District moved for
summary judgment. Relying on the management rights clause,
the District argued that the CBAs unambiguously establish
that it retains the right to refuse to pay for ELA training.
The trial court disagreed, concluded that the CBAs are
ambiguous, and asked the jury to interpret the pertinent
contract provisions. The jury found that the CBAs require
payment for ELA training, returned a verdict for the DCTA on
the breach-of-contract claim, and awarded the DCTA damages in
excess of $1.1 million.
A division of the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that
the jury was properly asked to ascertain the meaning of the
relevant contract provisions because the CBAs are ambiguous
regarding compensation for ELA training. Denver Classroom
Teachers Ass'n v. Sch. Dist. No. 1 in Denver & Colo.
(Denver Classroom Teachers), 2017 COA 2, ¶¶
13-18, _ P.3d . The division acknowledged that the CBAs
contain a management rights clause, which gives the District
control over "[a]ll lawful rights and authority"
not expressly addressed in the CBAs. Id. at ¶
14. It further recognized that ELA training is a posted job
requirement and the CBAs are silent on whether the District
is required to pay teachers for fulfilling a posted job
requirement. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. But the
division observed that the CBAs require "payment for
work beyond the forty-hour week, and . . . the ELA training
may fall into that category." Id. at ¶ 17.
Thus, reasoned the division, the CBAs are "fairly
susceptible to being interpreted to require payment" for
ELA training. Id.
Notably, the division found unpersuasive the District's
reliance on Denver Firefighters:
[I]n that case the supreme court determined that the CBA in
question unambiguously gave the city the right to draft and
implement the disputed terms. Here, in contrast, we have
concluded that the CBAs are ambiguous regarding payment for
ELA training. Therefore, although management rights clauses
provide expansive rights under certain circumstances, those
circumstances are not present in this case.
Id. at ¶ 18. This appeal