DOCKET NO. 297-R10-595 STACY DULANEY V. CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT § BEFORE THE STATE § § § COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION § § § THE STATE OF TEXAS
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER Statement of the Case Petitioner, Stacy Dulaney, appeals the decision of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District board of trustees, Respondent, to deny her request that Respondent not seek reimbursement from her for a laptop computer. On November 2, 1995 a telephonic conference was held on Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District’s Motion for Summary Judgment before Christopher Maska, the Administrative Law Judge appointed by the Commissioner of Education. Petitioner is
represented by Patricia V. Hayes, Attorney at Law, Austin, Texas. Respondent is represented by Jennifer Piskun, Attorney at Law, Houston, Texas. On November 3, 1995, the Administrative Law Judge issued a Proposal for Decision recommending that Petitioner’s appeal be denied. Exceptions and replies were timely filed and considered. Findings of Fact After due consideration of the evidence and matters officially noticed, in my capacity as Commissioner of Education, I make the following Findings of Fact: 1. Petitioner, Stacy Dulaney, was employed as a teacher at Cy-Falls High School by
Respondent, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District during the 1993-1994 and 19941995 school years. 2. At the beginning of the 1993-1994 school year Respondent decided that all
grading was to be computerized. Each teacher was given three options as to how to comply with
the computerized grading directive. A teacher could go to a central location on campus that had computers to enter grades. A teacher could receive a desktop computer. A teacher could receive a lap top computer, if the teacher agreed to be responsible for the laptop computer. 3. Respondent required teachers to be financially responsible for laptop computers
because laptop computers are, by their nature, extremely portable and, hence, easy to steal. Respondent did not require teachers to be financially responsible for desktop computers because desktop computers are not as easy to steal as laptops. 4. While teachers were required to use computers for grading, they were allowed to
use the computers for any professional activities. 5. Petitioner decided that a having a laptop computer would be the most convenient
of the three options. It was not the only option that would allow her to fulfill her responsibilities to the district. 6. On September 27, 1993, Petitioner signed a lease agreement for a laptop
computer that specified:
2. The employee agrees and understands that each item leased must be returned on or before 5-27-94. 3. The employee agrees and assumes the financial responsibility if the equipment is damaged or not returned. Cypress-Fairbanks will deduct up to the purchase price of full replacement cost (approximately $1500) from the employee’s paycheck for damaged or unreturned equipment. 7. By memo of September 2, 1993, Petitioner was informed of Respondent’s
concerns that the laptop computers could be subject to theft and was informed of possible ways to obtain insurance to cover such a loss. 8. 9. On September 27, 1993, Petitioner received a laptop computer from Respondent. On May 9, 1994, Petitioner had her laptop computer in her classroom. Petitioner
escorted her class to the library but left the laptop and one student in the classroom. The student was taking a make-up exam. When Petitioner returned to her classroom, the laptop was missing. There was no physical evidence that a burglary had occurred.
If there was physical evidence that the laptop was stolen, such as a broken door
lock, Respondent would have covered the loss and Petitioner would not have been asked to compensate Respondent. 11. When an item disappears and there is no physical evidence of a burglary,
Respondent’s insurance carrier and Respondent classify the loss as a mysterious disappearance and do not compensate for the loss. 12. Respondent classified the loss of Petitioner’s laptop computer as a mysterious
disappearance based upon the same rules and regulations as Respondent’s insurance carrier would use in a similar case. 13. laptop. 14. Petitioner refused to compensate Respondent for the loss of her laptop computer. Respondent requested that Petitioner compensate it for the loss of Petitioner’s
Petitioner filed a grievance which claimed that she should not have to compensate Respondent. Respondent’s board of trustees denied the grievance. 15. Respondent has strictly followed its policy of forgiving an employee’s debt when
there is physical evidence of burglary. Discussion Petitioner alleges that there was no enforceable agreement to compensate Respondent for loss or damage to the laptop because any contact or bailment fails for lack of consideration and because the agreement was unconscionable. Additionally, Petitioner claims that the different treatment of laptops and desktop computers, and of losses when there is or is not evidence of burglary violates equal protection. The contract between Petitioner and Respondent was supported by consideration. The courts have held, “Texas law is firmly established that valuable consideration for a contract is either a benefit to the promisor or detriment to the promisee or the surrender of the promisee of some legal right.” El Paso Water Improvement District No. 1 v. City of El Paso, 243 F.2d 927, 933 (5th Cir. 1957), cert. denied, 355 U.S. 820 (1957). When Respondent established a
requirement that all grades be entered on a computer, Petitioner had a choice among three methods of entering grades. Petitioner found that the most convenient option would be to receive a laptop. In order to receive a laptop, which could be used for any professional purposes, Petitioner had to agree to be financially responsible for the machine. The deal involved a benefit to both parties. Petitioner received the use of a laptop that was a convenient way to enter grades and to do other professional tasks. Respondent received an employee who would be more productive. The deal also involved a burden on both parties. Respondent had to provide Petitioner with a costly machine. Petitioner had to agree to limit the use of the laptop to professional tasks and to be financially responsible for the machine. The agreement was freely entered into by the parties. There was consideration for the agreement 1. There was nothing unconscionable about this agreement. Petitioner had other options that would not have required her to become financially liable for a computer. She chose to trade the convenience of having a laptop for the risk that she might have to reimburse Respondent for loss or damage to the machine. Further, Petitioner was informed that laptops are often subject to theft, yet she chose to leave the laptop in a classroom with an unsupervised student. A district can legitimately require a teacher who places its equipment at risk, to reimburse it for the loss of the equipment. This does not mean that a district can require a teacher to compensate it for any equipment that was lost or damaged when it was under the teacher’s control. However, in this case, Petitioner freely entered into an agreement that she would be responsible for the laptop. Equal protection is at issue when similarly situated individuals are treated differently. City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3254 (1982). Since no protected class is involved, the rational basis test applies. 105 S.Ct. 3258. There is no violation of the equal protection because teachers who chose laptops were responsible for their machines while teachers who chose desk tops were not responsible for their machines. The two groups of teachers are not similarly situated, which means that they may be treated differently.
Petitioner rightly points out that the one dollar charge for leasing the laptop was a sham, seeing as Respondent refunded the money to all teachers. But when one disregards the one dollar there is still consideration to support the contract.
Likewise, teachers who have their computers stolen and can show physical evidence of burglary are not similarly situated with teachers who have their computers stolen and cannot show physical evidence of burglary2. Even if the groups were similarly situated, there is a rational basis for treating teachers who chose a computer that is easy to steal differently from teachers who chose a computer that is harder to steal, and there is a rational basis for treating mysterious disappearances differently than proven burglary. Conclusions of Law After due consideration of the record, matters officially noticed, and the foregoing Findings of Fact, in my capacity as Commissioner of Education, I make the following Conclusions of Law: 1. The Commissioner of Education has jurisdiction to hear this cause under Tex.
Educ. Code § 11.13. 2. Petitioner entered into a valid contract with Respondent wherein she promised to
be financially responsible for the laptop computer she was given to use. 3. Petitioner entered into a valid bailment agreement to return the laptop computer
she was given to use. 4. Respondent’s differing treatment of teachers who selected desktop computers
and laptop computers is not a violation of equal protection. The two classes of teachers are not similarly situated. It is rational for Respondent to treat teachers who chose an easy to steal computer differently from teachers who chose a hard to steal computer.
Petitioner notes that even though the contract did not specify that the district would not hold a teacher responsible for the loss of a laptop, if there was physical evidence of a burglary, this was the district’s policy. Petitioner claims that Respondent should also not seek reimbursement even if there was no physical evidence of a burglary, if it is nonetheless reasonable to conclude that theft occurred. In this case it would be reasonable to conclude that Petitioner’s laptop was stolen. However, the district has a rational reason for treating the two cases differently. The district premises its generosity in forgiving debts on a high level of proof. This level of proof means that it is highly likely that only those employees who have been the victim of crimes will have their debts forgiven. It also means that some teachers who have been the victim of crimes will not have their debts forgiven. This policy bears a rational relationship to the goal of only forgiving debts of those teachers who are the victims of crime.
Respondent’s differing treatment of teachers who could or could not present
physical evidence that their missing computers were stolen is not a violation of equal protection. The two classes of teachers are not similarly situated. The rational basis for the difference in treatment is that the district demands a high level of proof to help insure that only those teachers who have been the victims of crime are compensated. 6. 7. 8. Petitioner owes Respondent for the value of Petitioner’s laptop. Respondent’s Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted. Petitioner’s appeal should be denied. ORDER After due consideration of the record, matters officially noticed, and the foregoing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, in my capacity as Commissioner of Education, it is hereby ORDERED that Petitioner’s appeal be, and is hereby, DENIED. SIGNED AND ISSUED this ______ day of ______________________________ 1996.
_____________________________________ MIKE MOSES COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION