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In July 2016 Anel Perez filed a civil complaint against Galt Joint Union Elementary School District. which alleged that she was acting as a volunteer for the spelling bee held at River Oaks Elementary School, which is owned or in the possession of the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.

The complaint alleges that on December 4, 2015, while attending the event, she fell off the school’s auditorium stage and down an adjacent stairway, causing catastrophic injury to her.

The School District filed an answer to the compliant in November 2016, but the affirmative defenses in this initial answer did not include anything regarding the availability of workers’ compensation coverage. In late 2018, the District filed a successful motion for leave to amend its answer to the complaint which added an affirmative defense of the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy.

The litigation was bifurcated, and Phase 1 involved only the applicability of the exclusive remedy defense, and would address if a resolution adopted under Labor Code section 3364.5 applied to the School District, such that Perez’s sole and exclusive remedy would be workers’ compensation.

Dr. Karen Schauer, who testified that she was the superintendent of the “Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.” . Schauer’s testimony and the evidence she presented touched on three key issues: the 1968 adoption of a resolution pursuant to Labor Code section 3364.5 by the governing board of the “Galt Joint Union School District,” the names by which the district identifies itself, and her use of school principals as her designees.

Plaintiff testified she had two children who attended River Oaks Elementary at the time of the accident, and she was a frequent volunteer at the school. She was vice president of the PTA. Plaintiff testified that the PTA president asked her to volunteer at the bee the day before the event. Plaintiff agreed that during the time of the spelling bee and before her fall, she “understood that [she] w[as] under the direction and control of Ms. Yount who was in essence running the spelling bee.”

Lois Yount has worked for “Galt Joint Union Elementary School District” for 20 years. She used to work as a school administrator at River Oaks Elementary. As a school administrator, she would oversee every aspect of the school, including student safety and staff safety, day-to-day happenings, and school functions. She would serve as a leader of instruction, maintenance, and operation. Her direct supervisor, with whom she would communicate on an on-going basis, was the district superintendent.

After conclusion of the Phase 1 trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the District on the ground that a resolution passed under Labor Code section 3364.5 in 1968 by the “Governing Board of Galt Joint Union School District of Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties” for the “Galt Joint Union School District” converted plaintiff’s status to that of an employee under the Act, rendering workers’ compensation the sole and exclusive remedy to compensate plaintiff for her injuries.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court in the published case of Perez v. Galt Joint Union Elementary School District -C092691 (September 2023).

Generally, a person “performing voluntary service[s] for a public agency . . . who does not receive remuneration for the services” is excluded from the definition of “employee” under the Workers Compensation Act. (Lab. Code, § 3352, subd. (a)(9).)

However, under certain circumstances, usually upon the governing board’s adoption of a resolution, volunteers of statutorily identified organizations can be deemed employees under the Act. (See, e.g., Lab. Code, §§ 3361.5-3364.7.) One such exception to the exclusion of volunteers from the definition is contained in Labor Code section 3364.5, and applies “upon the adoption of a resolution of the governing board of the school district” to “person[s] authorized by the governing board of a school district or the county superintendent of schools to perform volunteer services for the school district” who are injured “while engaged in the performance of any service under the direction and control of the governing board of the school district or the county superintendent.” (Lab. Code, § 3364.5.)

In response to the plaintiff’s arguments against application of § 3364.5 the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) that so long as a resolution has been passed at some point by the governing board of a district and not later rescinded, Labor Code section 3364.5 does not require that district board members and staff be aware of the statute at the time a volunteer is injured in order for it to apply; (2) district board members do not need to know about and authorize a specific volunteer’s involvement in a specific activity for the exception to apply; and (3) district board members do not need to directly control and direct a volunteer’s actions for the exception to apply.

“The broad purpose of Labor Code section 3364.5, reflected in the legislative history, reinforces our decision that the statute does not apply just in the narrow circumstances and to the narrow class of volunteers to which plaintiff’s reading would have us apply the statute.”