Power of Unity and Appeals
The Power of Unity and Appeals
by Matt Murphy
Demarco Rotan-Mitchell was blindsided.
He was staring at a written notice that after over a year of employment with the Long Beach Unified School District he was being recommended for termination.
He had been performing his job as a custodian at Long Beach Polytechnic High School (Poly) without issue. In fact, over three months earlier in January of 2022, he had reached out to the area custodian manager in his district seeking specific training to improve.
The termination notice, however, followed months of what Rotan-Mitchell felt was undeserved treatment - of being singled out.
But what began as the overwhelming fight of one employee against a school district ended with his union coming to his defense and a shining example of the good that comes from people banding together.
Demarco Rotan-Mitchell stands in front of his new school site in the Long Beach Unified School District after he and CSEA successfully argued in an appeal for his reinstatement. (Mitchell Stewart)
“[CSEA] really gave me a voice when I didn’t have one myself,” Rotan-Mitchell said.
To say his termination notice was unwarranted is an understatement.
Rotan-Mitchell had been given written reprimands for manners as inconsequential as having his music too loud and leaving 20 minutes early once. Adding to the inconsistency, for the time that Rotan-Mitchell was issued the reprimands, his supervisor rated his performance as satisfactory - but he was also placed on an improvement plan, something typically not issued unless an evaluation is late or less than satisfactory. Rotan-Mitchell's was neither of those.
He had not received any reprimand, notice, or further guidance since that January.
And yet Rotan-Mitchell found himself reading a notice recommending his dismissal. On top of that, the notice was dated March 25, 2022, but was not mailed until March 29 giving Rotan-Mitchell just five days after receipt to respond.
Initially, the district moved to terminate him because he had not responded within five days of March 25, defying a California Code of Civil procedure that extended his time to respond by five days after being considered received. He was also not given the opportunity to appear in-person for a pre-disciplinary hearing as required by Skelly v. State Personnel Board, nor given the opportunity to appear before the Board as they considered his termination.
Rotan-Mitchell responded quickly after finally receiving the notice and the district had his written rebuttal the next day. Nevertheless, the district dismissed him on April 13, 2022.
“[CSEA] really gave me a voice when I didn't have one myself.”
- Demarco Rotan-Mitchell, Long Beach-2
From the start, he felt what was happening was wrong and coworkers who knew there were resources available to him through CSEA encouraged him to act against Long Beach Unified. His labor relations representative took his case and through multiple four-to-five-hour long meetings with Rotan-Mitchell, they built their argument against the district.
Though Rotan-Mitchell was served his notice in April of 2022, his hearing wasn’t held until nearly a year later, on March 21 and 23, 2023. The help of CSEA provided tangible benefits, but the reassurance that he was not alone while his defense came together was just as valuable.
“You go from feeling like you’re by yourself to feeling like you have someone on your side,” Rotan-Mitchell said. “It made it much easier to deal with.”
At the hearing, they were able to prove not only the inconsistencies in the timing of when previous disciplinary actions were taken against Rotan-Mitchell, but that he was not provided with adequate training to begin with.
Of paramount importance in the case was one of Rotan-Mitchell's coworkers coming forward to testify on his behalf. That testimony, combined with the help of his LRR in proving that the Long Beach District did not give Rotan-Mitchell any indication that his job was in jeopardy, led to a successful appeal decision.
Rotan-Mitchell was awarded backpay and was reinstated to his job at another site within the district.
Without the help of CSEA, Rotan-Mitchell would have been left to fight the district on his own. It is a powerful example of CSEA’s ability to reverse unjust terminations. Now back at work and having had his sense of normalcy restored, Rotan-Mitchell's message to members facing similar issues of workplace discrimination is simple:
"Speak out and they’ll help you.”