Attorneys for teachers and other school workers fired in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have asked Louisiana’s Supreme Court to take another look at their lawsuit over their dismissals.
The lawsuit could have resulted in damages being paid to more than 7,000 fired school employees, with estimated possible costs to the state and the New Orleans school board of over $1 billion. But the high court dismissed the suit last month in a 5-2 decision.
The workers are requesting a rehearing on a variety of grounds. Among them is the contention that education officials from the state and New Orleans wrongly claimed there was no money available to bring back workers. The workers say post-Katrina federal emergency funds totaling nearly $500 million should have been used for that purpose.
In its Oct. 31 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the fired employees’ due process rights were violated. In the majority opinion, Justice Jeffrey Victory noted the widespread destruction that followed levee failures during the 2005 storm and said due process rights were not violated in a situation where jobs were unavailable.
“The year following Katrina, the State Department of Education received approximately $500 million in emergency funds to ‘restart’ public schools,” said the Nov. 17 filing by lead attorney Willie Zanders and others. “Teachers, counselors, food service workers and other pre-Katrina employees should have been welcomed back to help restart the schools.”
The filing goes on to say that attorneys for the state and the New Orleans school board falsely claimed the emergency money was for construction. In fact, the filing says, the money had come in response to requests from then-state Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard for financial help for employees of school systems affected by the storm.
Victory’s October ruling also said the issues brought up in the employees’ suit had been dealt with in a settlement of separate lawsuits bought by the New Orleans teachers’ union and therefore barred from consideration. The school employees’ filing takes issue with that on several grounds, contending that the statutory rights violated by the firings are not part of the union collective bargaining process, and that neither the union nor the school board intended to settle the employees’ lawsuit by settling the separate union case.
Neither the state nor the school board had filed a response to the request for rehearing as of Tuesday afternoon.