School district seeks dismissal of lawsuit

Union battles hiring practices, termination of sick-leave bank

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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The Douglas County School District filed a motion April 17 to dismiss the Douglas County Federation’s lawsuits that allege violations of unfair hiring practices and termination of a sick-leave bank.

DCSD’s motion says the teachers’ union is attempting to litigate issues tied to two now-expired collective bargaining agreements (CBA), and that the DCF has no legal footing for some of its allegations.

The teachers’ union filed two lawsuits in February, saying DCSD “illegally refused to consider teachers for job openings after their positions had been eliminated,” and asking it to reimburse teachers for sick leave days donated to a sick-leave bank that the district terminated.

Several teachers who say they were harmed by the alleged violations also are named as plaintiffs in the union’s lawsuit.

In its motion to dismiss, DCSD says the union lacks standing in claiming the district refused to interview laid-off teachers for new positions or meet with the union to develop policies regarding teacher displacement.

“In short, plaintiffs invoke faulty legal theories and rely on expired contractual obligations,” the document reads.

DCSD did not respond to emails requesting comment on their motion to dismiss. In February, school board president John Carson called the lawsuits frivolous.

But union president Brenda Smith said DCF’s claims aren’t tied to the CBA’s status.

“Part of the downsizing procedures under Colorado law is they need to create a priority hiring pool, and they didn’t do that,” she said of DCSD. “They didn’t follow the law.”

According to language included in 2010’s Colorado Senate Bill 191, any active, non-probationary teacher who has been deemed effective and hasn’t yet secured a position “shall be a member of a priority hiring pool, which … shall ensure the non-probationary teacher a first opportunity to interview for available positions for which he or she is qualified in a school district.”

But in its motion to dismiss, DCSD says enforcement of those statutes falls to the Colorado Board of Education, “a designated remedy that excludes all others,” according to DCSD’s motion.

On the sick-leave bank claim, the DCF says Douglas County teachers had a long-standing practice of donating one sick day a year to the bank for themselves or others to use. The union says DCSD terminated the sick bank in July 2012, including about 10,000 accumulated sick leave days.

DCSD also alleges the union “failed to exhaust administrative remedies” in coming to an agreement on the sick-leave bank, that those benefits were not vested, and a cash-out provision for the unused days wasn’t included in the CBA.

“Neither the teachers’ nor the classified employees’ CBA expressly provided that sick-leave bank benefits would survive the contract’s termination,” according to the motion.

Consequently, teachers who have fallen ill since the CBA’s July 2012 expiration aren’t entitled to use the bank, according to DCSD.

Smith disagrees, again saying the CBA’s lapsed status isn’t a factor.

“The sick-leave bank was owned by the teachers,” she said. “I truly believe it belongs to them.”

The district’s longstanding agreement with the teachers’ union expired in 2012 after more than 100 hours of fruitless negotiation.