NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A five-judge state appeals court panel must decide whether to uphold a ruling that thousands of New Orleans public school employees were wrongfully fired after Hurricane Katrina shut down the city and its schools in 2005.

A lawyer for the fired workers, Suzette Bagneris, told the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal panel Thursday that the Orleans Parish School Board and the state violated the rights of teachers and school workers fired after the storm. She urged the panel to uphold last year’s ruling by Judge Ethel Simms Julien.

Brent Barriere, an attorney for the School Board, called Julien’s ruling “unprecedented” and “unlawful” and urged its reversal.

The judges gave no indication when they will rule.

Simms awarded more than $1 million to seven lead plaintiffs in the case; and her ruling, if it stands, could mean millions more for an estimated 7,000 others.

An attorney for the school board said last year the decision could cost the board $1 billion in potential damage payments if it stands.

In 45 pages of reasons that accompanied last year’s 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 go through if finances require a reduction in force.

The lawsuit began in late 2005 as an effort to prevent dismissals and evolved into a wrongful termination action. It took years for the case to even come to trial. Then, post-trial proceedings, transcription of court proceedings and the compilation of volumes of evidence took months.

Since the ruling nearly a year ago, one of the lead plaintiffs has died. Julien had awarded more than $480,000 to Gwendolyn Ridgley, money that she never saw as the appeal process slowly progressed. She died last year at age 61.