(Baton Rouge – April 11, 2012) In a decision that will have a major impact on school districts around the state, an appeals court has ruled that districts may not reduce school employees’ salaries by furloughs or other means.
The unanimous ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal declares that the Jefferson Parish School Board acted improperly when it imposed a one-day furlough on non-teaching school employees on June 7 of 2011. The ruling overturns a trial court’s decision that the board’s action was within the law.
“This is a great day for the rights of school employees,” Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch said of the ruling. “It asserts that employees must be treated with respect and dignity, and it affirms the rule of law over the whims of the school board.
“The legislature passed these bills to protect school employees from actions like this,” she said.
The ruling affects 2,192 school employees who were forced to take a day off without pay. Still waiting for resolution is a companion lawsuit filed by JFT on behalf of the district’s 3,456 teachers, who were also involuntarily furloughed for one day by the school board.
Federation attorney Larry Samuel said that two lawsuits were filed because the furloughs were adopted by the board at difference dates and because of slight differences in the legal statutes governing salaries for teachers and school employees.
“The language in the teacher statute is very close to that in the school employee statute,” Samuel said. The union is expected to file briefs in the teacher suit later this week.
A number of other school districts have either furloughed educators or signaled that they have plans to do so in the near future. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling, while not binding outside its jurisdiction, could give legal weight to the case against those actions.
In ruling for the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, the three appeal court judges upheld the union’s argument that a state law, LSA-R.S. 17:422.6, prohibits school districts from paying school employees less than they earned the previous year.
The relevant passage in the law states, “…the hourly wage or annual salary paid to any school employee shall not be reduced for any school year below the amount paid the school employee in hourly wage or annual salary during the previous school year...”
“(W)e conclude,” the court ruled, “that the imposition of a one-day furlough on noninstructional school employees is not allowed pursuant to LSA-R.S. 17:422.6.”