It’s the end of the road for the thousands of New Orleans public school employees who said they were wronged when they lost their jobs after Hurricane Katrina. They lost in Louisiana in October, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied their appeal Monday (May 18), according to court documents.
The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision against the plaintiffs was doubly negative — most of the court’s justices threw the case out, and said they would have ruled against the plaintiffs anyway — and doubly surprising, because the teachers had won at trial in theappeals court. The trial judge awarded damages that could have totaled $1.5 billion.
About 7,500 teachers and staff were part of the suit. It charged that the Orleans Parish School Board did not follow proper procedures when it laid off almost its entire workforce after the 2005 storm. Moreover, plaintiffs said, the state Recovery School District, which took over most of the schools, should have given them priority in hiring.
Despite Monday’s ruling, the plaintiffs aren’t giving up. Willie Zanders, their attorney, said he will turn to the executive branch and Congress to investigate the possible misuse of $500 million in post-Katrina grants to the schools. At the time, Louisiana Education Superintendent Cecil Picard based his request on the need to pay school staff, Zanders said. But trial Judge Ethel Simms Julien of Orleans Parish Civil District Court said in her decision that the state “diverted these funds to the RSD.”
In the best-case scenario, Zanders said, Congress would require Louisiana to repay the money to the federal government then pass legislation directing the money to the laid-off school employees.
“You don’t quit after 10 years. If you believe in something, you fight. Justice has no time deadline — or we’d still be in slavery,” Zanders said.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears cases when they concern the federal Constitution. The plaintiffs argued that their due process rights had been violated under the 14th Amendment. They also said the case brought up “the unsettled important question of state-mandated priority consideration for employment” discussed in two 1972 decisions, according to their reply brief to the high court.