Orleans criminal court asks federal judge to toss employees’ lawsuit seeking missed retirement benefits

Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 8:56 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Attorneys representing Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and its Chief Judge Robin Pittman asked a federal judge Wednesday (April 5) to throw out a lawsuit brought by her chief administrator and five longtime court employees who say they are owed thousands of dollars in state retirement benefits.

The lawsuit exposes a potential rift between Pittman and the criminal court’s Judicial Administrator Robert Kazik. The motion asking U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey to dismiss the case even uses Kazik’s 2012 defense of the court against similar claims against him.

Kazik, his deputy Shannon Sims and four other longtime CDC administrators and court reporters say they have been cheated out of pension benefits because they were not properly enrolled in the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS) when first hired by the court, some as far back as in 1986. Each received a letter in January 2021 from the court’s human resources director informing them that their enrollment had been delayed several years because of “administrative errors,” they said in a lawsuit filed three months ago in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

The plaintiffs sued the Criminal District Court and Pittman in her capacity as chief judge, alleging that at least two other similarly situated employees who disputed their LASERS enrollment dates had received settlements -- one in the amount of $78,000 -- but that their grievances have been ignored.

“The petitioners have each requested that the court make them whole for the injuries resulting from the court’s ‘administrative errors,’” the suit says. “However, despite these demands, and despite the court’s actions to remedy its errors for other employees in identical situations, the court has heretofore failed to take any action to remedy the injuries that have resulted from the court’s failure to enroll the petitioners in LASERS at the appropriate times.”

The lawsuit was shifted to federal court last month and assigned to Zainey. A Baton Rouge legal team representing the Criminal District Court and Pittman asked the federal judge Wednesday to toss the case entirely, asserting it has been filed well past a prescribed three-year window to seek damages and that Kazik in particular should have known better.

“More than a decade before he filed the instant lawsuit as a plaintiff, Robert Kazik, the court’s Judicial Administrator, was a defendant in litigation over alleged administrative errors in failing to enroll workers in LASERS,” the defendants’ motion says, referring to a 2012 case, Laker v. Kazik.

“In that matter, Mr. Kazik … successfully argued that such claims are prescribed ‘on the face’ of the pleadings when filed more than three years after the claimants should have been enrolled in LASERS.”

The motion urged Zainey to dismiss the current claims on the same basis, “because they were filed more than 20 years after the alleged errors, more than 10 years after the last alleged damage, and more than one year after they knew or should have known they did not receive benefits received by others. … Every single plaintiff knew more than two decades before filing suit that they were not enrolled in LASERS.”

Attorney Stephen Haedicke, who represents the plaintiffs, told FOX 8 his clients learned about the problems with their retirement benefits in January of 2021. He said they were working with the court, trying to get the issue fixed. But, it wasn’t resolved, which is why they filed a lawsuit. He plans to respond to the motion filed in federal court, soon.

It is unclear when Zainey will rule on the motion.

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