A&A: The board reached ‘a unanimous decision’ but also claimed ‘no action was taken’ in closed session

Q: I am a director of a charter high school who was recently put on administrative leave (via an email that stated it was by unanimous decision of the board) following a closed meeting at which they announced “No action was taken.” I do not understand how no action could have been taken yet there was a unanimous decision of the Board. There have been multiple Brown Act violations by this board but this is the only one reaching the status of a misdemeanor as far as I can tell. Could you refer me to resources in my area? Who do I report this to? I found a link to a “cure letter” but after clicking on it got your site but couldn’t find the letter.

A: As for the underlying issue you raise, the Brown Act defines “action taken” to mean “a collective decision made by a majority of the members of a legislative body, a collective commitment or promise by a majority of the members of a legislative body to make a positive or a negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a legislative body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order or ordinance.” Govt. Code § 54952.6.

As you say, it would seem that a decision to place an employee on administrative leave would require that “action [be] taken,” as that term is defined in the Brown Act. Note that the Brown Act also imposes particular requirements on closed sessions, including on the information that must be reported out of closed sessions. See Govt. Code §§ 54956.7-54957.2.

As for resources to legal assistance in your area with respect to these Brown Act issues, you may be able to find an attorney to assist you through the First Amendment Coalition’s Lawyer’s Assistance Request Form at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/legal-hotline/lawyers-assistance-request-form/ or through one of the agencies listed on the ABA web site at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/lris.cfm?id=CA.

Finally, please note that a sample cure letter can be found on the FAC web site at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/brown-act/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-brown-act/template-for-brown-act-complaint/.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.