Hearings continue in employee class action against OPSB

Alejandro de los Rios Sep. 23, 2010, 11:28am

Three motions will be heard on Friday involving a class action suit brought by former employees against the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

New Orleans principal Eddy Oliver, teacher's aide Oscarlene Nixon and OPSB custodian Mildred Goodwin lead the class of 7,500 current and former OPSB employees who claim they were wrongfully terminated after most of New Orleans' public schools were flooded during hurricane Katrina.

On Friday, Judge Ethel Julien will hear two defense and one plaintiff motion.

New Orleans attorney Willie Zanders has filed a motion for Julien to approve a master list of class members for notice purposes. Zanders was granted leave to assemble a list of more than 8,000 former OPSB employees that were laid off or forced to retire following Hurricane Katrina.

Assistant Attorney General Brent Hicks is representing the state on behalf of its school boards. Hicks filed a motion to quash subpoenas Zanders sent to school superintendents in St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, Washington and Jefferson Parishes regarding the effects on those school boards following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The state claims those records – including staff lists following the hurricanes, their 2005-2006 school year budgets and pay records to employees – are irrelevant in this case because the state did not appropriate any school from those Parishes.

New Orleans attorney Renee Smith is representing the OPSB. She filed a motion for exception of vagueness, which was supported by the state, in regards to the plaintiff's fifth supplemental petition for damages. The motion claims the plaintiffs did not list a specific act of conspiracy in their cause of action.

The plaintiffs alleged, "the OPSB and the State Defendants conspired to and, in fact, committed wrongful conduct ... including wrongful termination."

In opposition to the defendant's exception, the plaintiffs argued that the defense "is not entitled to details beyond those necessary to place them on notice of the causes of action."

The plaintiffs argued that the defense's exception is "intended to delay" proceedings, but also filed a motion to continue the hearing.

The state argued that the plaintiffs contradict themselves. It also argued that it had been trying to work with the plaintiffs to settle the issue of the case management order "to no avail."

Smith also filed a cross-claim on behalf of the OPSB against the state. The cross-claim alleges that it was forced to terminate the plaintiffs because, when the RSD took over the majority of the OPSB's schools, there were no longer enough positions available to rehire all the OPSB employees after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The OPSB also stated that, though it denies all claims against them brought on by the defendants, "any such claims are due in whole or in part to the actions or other fault of cross-claim defendants, the State Defendants."

The case was originally filed as an injunctive relief for Oliver, Nixon and Goodwin, in which they claimed that the OPSB's proposed plan to turn several of its schools into quasi-charter schools would "end public schools in New Orleans."

The initial request, which essentially asked that teachers that were hired by the OPSB be retained in schools that were taken over by the RSD, was denied.

But in a September 2007 ruling, Julien acknowledged other causes of action including wrongful termination and breach of contract.

In December 2008, Julien certified the class as "all current or former employees of the OPSB prior to Hurricane Katrina." The class includes principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, central office administrators, secretaries, social works, food service, maintenance and other service workers that had been hired by the OPSB.

Orleans Parish Case 2005-12244

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