Appeal hearing case of post-Katrina school firings - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Appeal hearing case of post-Katrina school firings

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A state appeal court is set to hear arguments over whether thousands of New Orleans public school employees were wrongfully fired after Hurricane Katrina shut down the city and its schools in 2005.

At issue in Thursday morning's hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal is a ruling handed down last June by state Judge Ethel Simms Julien in New Orleans. She awarded more than $1 million to seven people who filed the class-action suit against the New Orleans school board and the state.

Her decision, if it stands, could also lead to damages 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.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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