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The Montana Department of Labor and Industry has ruled in favor of the Helena school district regarding a wage dispute over substitute teacher pay.

Two longtime substitutes, Michael Spreadbury and Doug Hansen, filed claims for a half-day’s wages for time spent acquiring an identification badge and filing employment paperwork at the May Butler building in Helena.

The claim was dismissed after a hearing in late December at which the district disputed these claims.

The Department of Labor ruled on the basis that Spreadbury and Hansen were not considered “employees” at the time the paperwork was filed.

Additionally, documents provided by the department state: “Hansen is claiming he is entitled to a half-day of wages in the amount of $45. It is not believable that it took Hansen four hours to complete paperwork and to obtain an identification badge. At best, it may have taken Hansen several minutes to complete those activities. Any time Hansen may have spent that day for the benefit of the school district was ‘de minimis’ and, therefore, not compensable.”

The Spreadbury document varies only slightly, stating that the work in question “could have (been) completed at any time thereafter depending on his personal schedule.”

Previous claims for compensation have been granted to the substitutes in the past with no disputes from the district. However, those claims included job training in addition to paperwork and obtaining identification.

The documents state that this “activity” did not provide “immediate advantage” to the district but rather provided advantage to the substitutes by qualifying them to potentially work as a substitute teacher for the district.

Spreadbury also filed a notice of perjury, alleging that Stacey Collette, human resources administrator for Helena school district, included false statements in her affidavit regarding his employment status. He argued that the department's wage and hour unit identified him as an employee and her affidavit claimed he wasn’t an employee.

This notice was dismissed following a review conducted by a hearing officer which found the two document’s information “consistent.”

Spreadbury also claimed that the school district’s appeal wasn’t timely.

“I feel the appeal never should have been heard as it was not filed timely,” said Spreadbury in a statement to the Independent Record. He said that he intends to lobby the Legislature about his experience as both an employer and an employee.

The department found that the district’s appeal letter was dated Oct. 9, 2018, the last day allowed for appeal. The letter was received by the employment relations division Oct. 11, 2018.

Furthermore, an affidavit submitted by Kaylie Johnson, legal assistant at Kavela Law Office, indicated that she successfully emailed the school district’s request for a hearing on Oct. 9 at 2 p.m.

The department determined that the request was timely and dismissed Spreadbury’s motion to dismiss.

Hansen claims that this decision shows “Montana administrative rules no longer apply to employer-employee relations,” “the decision of the employment relations division can be bypassed if the employer so chooses” and “Helena public schools is free to define and/or disqualify persons as to their employee status and compensate those persons according to their own ad hoc standards.”

Hansen took issue with hearing officer Caroline Holien’s decisions regarding the hearing.

The school district's Superintendent Tyler Ream said he didn’t see the ruling as a “win” because it was more of a difference of opinion between the district and the substitutes.

“I am thankful for the Department of Labor’s reconsideration of this matter as I believe their ruling reflected our intent and the reality of this situation,” Ream said.

Hansen took issue with the fact that a publicly funded organization like the Helena school district “can hire lawyers and pull private citizens into hearing sessions.”

“My original claim was $45,” Hansen said. “Helena public schools did hire a law firm for thousands of dollars and put the case into a process filled with deadlines and procedural trip wires. Sure, I could have hired my own lawyer to find a way through the Holien-created quagmire. Should I have spent that kind of money for a $45 claim?”

Ream said the district did not hire the law firm specifically for this matter.

“Like many districts across Montana, we continuously partner with the Kaleva Law team on many matters including personnel matters,” Ream said. That partnership includes guidance and counsel on matters involving external agencies, organization and firms, according to Ream.

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Education and Business Reporter

Education and Business reporter for Helena Independent Record.

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