Former law student sues UC for alleged breach of employee contracts

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Update 09/05/2016: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Julie Barrett.

A UC Berkeley graduate student filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the UC Board of Regents breached two student employee contracts in the 2013-14 academic year.

A former UC Berkeley School of Law student Julie Barrett alleges in the suit that the campus failed to pay her properly for her work as a reader in fall 2013 and spring 2014 and that, as a result, she was not able to complete her master of laws degree. The university, according to the lawsuit, said it was not required to pay Barrett in full because she was a student in a self-supporting program, which garners its financial support from private tuition dollars rather than from state funding.

United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents UC student-workers, filed multiple grievances with the state labor board beginning in October 2013 on Barrett’s behalf. Later, the union settled the complaint with the university in “the interest of promoting harmonious labor relations between the parties and to avoid the uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of litigation.”

Barrett received a $15,000 settlement as a result of an agreement reached between the union and the university, but she said what she wanted was her degree.

The campus declined to comment, and the UC Office of the President could not be immediately reached as of press time.

Barrett alleges in her current lawsuit that the university had attempted to shed its obligations as a public institution by labeling some of its programs as “self-supporting.”

“(The university doesn’t) tell you you’re applying to a self-supporting program,” Barrett said. “(There is) nothing that talks about how some students are second-class citizens.”

Barrett enrolled in the master of laws program at Berkeley Law in 2013, planning to pay her fees by working as an Academic Student Employee, a class of employee hired as teaching assistants, readers and tutors. Per the union’s contract with the university, Barrett said she expected 100 percent of her tuition, student services and health insurance fees to be covered by her work as a reader in the International and Area Studies department, in addition to an hourly salary of about $13.

When the IAS department attempted to pay her fees through an automatic program, however, the billing system didn’t process the payment, according to a complaint later filed by the union.

The university denies that Barrett was entitled to full fee remission, according to the settlement agreement reached between the university and the union. The campus interprets eligibility for full fee remission as limited to students enrolled in state-funded graduate programs.

“It’s a huge, big, fat political issue,” Barrett said. “They didn’t give me my degree — I had to pursue my other options.”

Check back for updates. 

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @suhaunah.