School Workers Fired After Katrina Rebuffed By U.S. High Court

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The nation's highest court on Monday rejected an appeal from lawyers representing more than 7,000 school workers who argue they were wrongfully fired after devastation from Hurricane Katrina closed New Orleans schools indefinitely.

         The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition for a hearing without giving a reason for its decision. The ruling effectively ends the legal battle over compensation for the thousands of employees fired after Katrina by the public school system.

         But the lawyer for the school workers said Monday he planned to take the matter to Congress and seek redress through the legislative branch.

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         "My disappointment is small compared to the harm done to thousands and thousands of people," said Willie Zanders, a lawyer for the fired teachers and workers. "We do believe the judicial branch has failed a lot of people."

         Zanders said he would submit the case to Congress in the hope that it would investigate how $500 million in federal money he said was meant to pay school employees after Katrina was diverted to other uses, such as paying private contractors.

         The appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was made after the Louisiana Supreme Court in October overturned previous rulings in favor of the workers.

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         Brent Barriere, an attorney for the Orleans Parish School Board, said Monday that the ruling was a long time coming.

         "We are pleased this long-running litigation is finally at a close," Barriere said. "We believe the Supreme Court has made the right decision."

         Lawyers for the state did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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         The case involves teachers, aides, service workers and others who lost their jobs.

         The school employees' litigation began shortly after Katrina struck as an effort to prevent dismissals. It progressed as the state moved to take over most New Orleans schools from a board plagued by corruption, poor financial management and low performance by students.

         The lawsuit evolved into a wrongful termination action that took years to even come to trial.

         Then in 2012, a state district judge ruled in favor of the employees and awarded more than $1 million to seven original plaintiffs and set the stage for class-action damages. A lawyer for education officials said the state and the local school board faced more than $1 billion in payments.

         An appellate court largely upheld that ruling.

         But the state Supreme Court dismissed the suit in October, in part on the grounds that the issues had been dealt with in a separate settlement with the New Orleans teachers' union. The court also found that employees' due-process rights were not violated.

         – by AP Reporter Cain Burdeau




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