The Ohio Supreme Court recently determined that a substitute custodian was not a “regular nonteaching school employee,” a designation that would have entitled him to better wages and benefits. The employee, substitute custodian Kurt Singer, demanded that the Fairland Local School District recognize him as a regular nonteaching employee since 2006 and pay him the additional back wages and benefits that he would have been qualified for under that designation.

Ohio law does not define “regular nonteaching school employee.” Under R.C. 3319.081, “regular nonteaching school employees” in local school districts, including hourly and per diem employees, are under a one-year contract for their first year, then a two-year contract for their second and third years. If renewed, a subsequent contract is a continuing contract, which includes other benefits such as paid leave as well as termination only for just cause. Because Singer worked hours and performed job functions similar to contractual custodians, he argued that he met the definition of a regular nonteaching school employee.

From 2006, when Singer was hired as a substitute custodian, to June 2016, every day that Singer worked for the district was recorded as “substituting.” Alleging that he had asked for a contract but was denied, he requested benefits and back wages to the 2009–2010 school year, which is when he would have received continuing contract benefits if the contract was granted. Singer asked the Supreme Court to compel Fairland Local to recognize him as a regular nonteaching employee and to provide a continuing contract.

The court found that Singer did satisfy the requirements of working full-time and at least 120 days within a school year for the first seven years, but he did not satisfy the requirement of being a “regular” employee. In the absence of a statutory definition of “regular,” the court turned to Black’s Law Dictionary to find the definition “steady or uniform in course, practice, or occurrence; not subject to unexplained or irrational variation.” The court examined Singer’s employment and found that it was not regular in terms of days of service, hours, and school-building assignments. Additionally, Singer worked anywhere from four to ten days in a pay period, and during many pay periods he worked even fewer than four days.

Additional facts leading to the court’s decision include that Singer had no regular location assignment but worked routinely in any of the district’s four buildings – sometimes in more than one building in the same day, and other times in the same building on a daily basis. Furthermore, Singer was able to turn down opportunities to substitute, and at times he did so.

In consideration of these facts, the court issued a 6-1 decision holding that “we cannot conclude that Singer’s employment was in any meaningful way ‘regular.’”

State ex rel. Singer v. Fairland Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-8368.