New Orleans union teachers to take case to U.S. Supreme Court

NEW ORLEANS (PAI) — Recipients of an unwelcome Halloween trick, the 7,500 union teachers and staff of New Orleans’ schools, summarily fired after the state took over the schools following Hurricane Katrina nine years ago and turned them all into charter schools, are taking their case for back pay and damages to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s because, reversing two lower court rulings, the Louisiana State Supreme Court threw their case out by a 5-2 vote on October 31. An extremely disappointed Willie Zanders, Sr., the group’s lead attorney, immediately said they would appeal case to the justices in D.C.

The Louisiana court majority ruled the teachers, members of United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), once the South’s largest union local, were already compensated through a settlement several years ago. The majority declared the group could not benefit twice.

The teachers and staffers lost their jobs after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita trashed the Crescent City in 2005, including its schools. The state took over the school system and established a “Recovery School District” for all but six of them.

It converted the 107 other Recovery District schools into charter schools, and then didn’t let UTNO teachers and staffers seek their old jobs – even though their union contract gave them priority for rehiring if they were laid off and vacancies subsequently occurred.

UTNO and its allies sued the Orleans Parish School Board and the state. They won a million-dollar judgment, including damages, in lower courts for seven people. The lower courts also certified the teachers and staffers as a class to sue the board and the state. The state Supreme Court majority tossed both the money and the class action case.

“We respectfully but strongly disagree with today’s ruling which overturned nearly nine years of case law,” Zanders said.

“We are encouraged by the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice Bernette Joshua John-son, who wrote: ‘I agree with the Court of Appeals’ finding that plaintiffs were deprived of their constitutionally protected property rights to be recalled to employment without due process of law,’ and the fact that Associate Justice Hughes also disagreed with the court’s ruling.

“Our legal committee decided to ask the United States Supreme Court to review” the Louisiana Supreme Court decision, he added.

“This ordeal has been an extremely stressful experience for 7,500 employees and their families who suffered after Hurricane Katrina and we must pause to pay respect to all former employees who are no longer with us, including class representative Gwendolyn Ridgley, who passed away in October 2012. With continued prayers and moral support, our legal team will continue to fight for justice on behalf of New Orleans public school employees.”

Photo: UTNO Facebook.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.