Former UC Berkeley School of Law student sues UC regents for degree

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A former UC Berkeley law student filed a federal complaint Friday, suing the UC Board of Regents to get her degree.

The plaintiff, Julie Barrett, had two UC Academic Student Employee, or ASE, contracts during fall 2013 and spring 2014. Barrett alleges that because she was not paid properly for her work, she was not able to complete her master of laws degree.

“The legal issue is very simple — a basic breach of contract action,” Barrett said in an email. “UC has spent probably hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money fighting my case, when it could have saved a lot of money just performing on the ASE contracts.”

According to the lawsuit, the two contracts were standard ASE contracts given to all students who work as teaching assistants. In return for their work, the student receives coverage for 100 percent of tuition, health care and other student fees, as well as receiving a per-hour wage.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that both positions provide a partial tuition reduction. Barrett, however, was not eligible for these reductions because of her enrollment in a self-supporting law school program. Students in this program, which does not receive state funds, are not entitled to fee remissions.

On Barrett’s behalf, the UC Student-Workers Union, or United Auto Workers Local 2865, filed multiple grievances with the state labor board beginning in October 2013. Later, Barrett received a $15,000 settlement as a result of an agreement reached between the union and the university.

Barrett had also previously taken the UC regents to court for breach of contract, but had her case dismissed. According to Gilmore, UC employees are employed “by statute” and not “by contract,” and as a result, the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the case.

“We are pleased that the Superior Court dismissed the case and the state court of appeal agreed with that decision,” Gilmore said in an email. “We anticipate the same outcome regarding the federal case the complainant recently filed.”

As for Barrett, she plans to settle the current lawsuit as soon as the UC Office of General Counsel agrees to award her degree. According to Gilmore, the UC Board of Regents has no current plans to informally resolve the case because it anticipates that the case will be dismissed.

Jenny Weng is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.