State court rules New Orleans board wrongfully terminated approximately 7,000 employees in aftermath of Katrina
According to the Associated Press (AP) in The Washington Post, Judge Ethel Simms Julien awarded over $1 million in damages to seven named plaintiffs in a class action suit that claimed thousands of Orleans Parish public school employees were wrongfully terminated after Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana state court judge’s decision clears the way for more damages to be awarded to an estimated 7,000 others in future proceedings.
The suit was spurred by the Orleans Parish School Board’s decision that dismissed more than 7,000 employees after Katrina, while the state seized the opportunity to take over most schools in the long-troubled system. The lawsuit began in late 2005 as an effort to prevent dismissals, and evolved into a wrongful termination action.
In 45 pages of reasons that accompanied the ruling, Julien said the fired teachers and others were deprived of “the vested property interest held in their tenured or permanent employment positions.” She also said the employees were denied due process that school boards by state law must provide if finances require a reduction in force.
In the months after the August 2005 hurricane, then-Governor Kathleen Blanco and the state legislature moved to place most of the city’s public schools in the state Recovery School District (RSD), leaving only a few higher performing schools in the hands of the board. Most of the approximately 70 schools run by the RSD have been turned over to independent charter organizations. The local school board has chartered numerous schools as well.
The result has been steady, if often incremental progress overall. But there also have been complaints about the state running local schools; allegations from some that local communities have not had enough say in the operation; and complaints that teachers and others who lost their jobs after the storm have been treated unfairly.
The RSD did not automatically rehire Orleans Parish school board employees. Any that were hired were no longer covered by a collective bargaining agreement and often had fewer benefits, employees’ attorney Willie Zanders has said.
Source: The Washington Post, 6/20/12, By AP
[On the other hand, laid-off tenured teachers in Chicago have not fared as well. In April 2012, Legal Clips summarized the decision of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (IL, IN, WI) in Chicago Teachers Union v. Board of Educ., which reversed a federal district court’s ruling granting the Chicago Teachers Union a preliminary and permanent injunction which ordered the Chicago Board of Education to rescind its economic layoff of tenured teachers and to promulgate layoff and recall rules for tenured teachers. The panel’s decision to reverse and remand with instructions for the district court to vacate the injunction was based on the responses to questions the panel certified to the Illinois Supreme Court, which determined that Illinois law did not give laid-off teachers substantive rights with respect to rehiring and rights to certain procedures during the rehiring process.]