Judge authorizes class action suit for New Orleans school employees fired after Katrina

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NEW ORLEANS–Civil District Court Judge Ethel Simms-Julien has issued a judgment that potentially impacts more than 8,500 former employees of the Orleans Parish School Board. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of principals, teachers, paraprofessionals,

NEW ORLEANS–Civil District Court Judge Ethel Simms-Julien has issued a judgment that potentially impacts more than 8,500 former employees of the Orleans Parish School Board. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, central office administrators, secretaries, social workers and other employees who provided instructional, administrative, food, security, maintenance, transportation and other services for 62,000 public school students as of August 29, 2005.

In an 18-page ruling, Dec. 17, Judge Julien certified a lawsuit to proceed as a class action on behalf of thousands of employees of the Orleans Parish School Board terminated after Hurricane Katrina.

The ruling will potentially allow more than 8,500 former Orleans Parish School Board employees to seek monetary damages from the Orleans Parish School Board, the State of Louisiana and its education agencies for claims of wrongful termination and breach of contract. The class certification ruling is a part of the legal process to recover damages for all eligible former employees.

This case began on October 28, 2005, when several employees filed a Petition for Injunctive Relief to prevent the Orleans Parish School Board from terminating their employment, claiming a violation of their state-mandated due process and property rights as certified and/or permanent public school employees.

The lawsuit was amended to include the State of Louisiana following the State’s takeover of over 100 New Orleans Public Schools effective November 30, 2005. Other state Defendants include the Louisiana State Department of Education and its Recovery School District, and the Louisiana State Board of Secondary and Elementary Education.

The employees’ initial request for injunctive relief in the form of continued employment with the new state-run school system was denied, but in a September 2007 ruling, Judge Julien recognized other “causes of action” for monetary relief including wrongful termination and breach of contract.

In the course of the litigation, attorneys for the plaintiffs discovered a letter showing that on September 14, 2005, just two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education requested over $2 billion in emergency federal aid to pay out-of-work employees and to restart public schools devastated by the storm. State education officials subsequently received over $445 million in emergency congressional funding to restart public schools. Despite receipt of the federal funding, 8,500 New Orleans Public School employees were terminated.

The attorneys representing the OPSB’s terminated employees are Willie M. Zanders, Sr., Suzette Bagneris, Roderick Alvendia, Anthony D. Irpino, Juana Marine Lombard, Clarence Roby, Larry Samuel and Walter I. Willard. Evelyn Battiste serves as Manager of Client Relations.

“While this has been and will continue to be a long, hard-fought battle, we are taking a moment to be thankful for this very important victory on behalf of the patient and remarkable clients that we serve,” said Willie M. Zanders, Sr., lead counsel.  Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly

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Copyright 2008 NNPA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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