School Job Lawsuits

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 What Are “School Jobs”?

The term “school job” generally refers to people’s jobs if they are employed as teachers, instructional aides, or paraeducators in a school. However, school jobs can also involve several kinds of work other than the instruction and supervision of students. These include the following:

  • Administrative Staff: The principal, vice-principal, and the many people who work in the offices of school districts and the human resources department, are members of the administrative staff. School secretaries can also be indispensable members of a school’s administrative staff;
  • Teachers’ Aides: Aides are often present in classrooms today to help teachers with instruction and management of student behavior;
  • Counselors; Most schools today employ counselors who help manage the social-emotional aspects of learning as well as student behavior;
  • Coaches: Coaches of sports teams are members of the school staff;
  • Custodians and Maintenance Staff: Custodians and maintenance staff have always been a critical part of school operations;
  • Parking Attendants: Many students drive to school, and parking attendants supervise activity in the large parking lots that accommodate student vehicles;
  • Crossing Guards: Crossing guards manage traffic in the mornings during arrival and in the afternoons during dismissal;
  • Cafeteria Workers: Most schools today have cafeterias, and preparing and delivering meals and snacks are a routine part of the school day.

In general, school jobs are associated with several unique requirements, such as the need to submit to a background check. In addition, in some districts, school employees have a continuing duty to inform the school district that employs them of any criminal charges and/or convictions. This is because a school employee works with children, and every school district and school is primarily concerned with the safety of students in the school environment.

What Are Typical Legal Issues in a School Job Lawsuit?

School jobs may give rise to a variety of legal disputes. For instance, the following legal issues may arise in connection with school employment:

  • Wage and Hour Issues: Disputes over wages, salaries, and hours are common in school employment because of a school’s need to provide supervision of classrooms and certain other student activities at certain times reliably on a fixed schedule;
  • Disputes about Vacation Scheduling: Employee vacation periods tend to follow those of the student’s schedules, i.e., summer/winter breaks, etc. This can lead to some disputes over vacation timing;
  • Background Checks: As mentioned, an applicant for employment in a school is usually required to undergo a thorough background check with law enforcement. People who have been charged with or convicted of crimes, especially those involving minors, firearms, or restraining orders, often are not eligible to be hired by a school district. In addition, some states and school districts impose a continuing obligation on their employees to inform the district if they are subject to any criminal charges or criminal convictions after being employed by a school district. If this happens, an employee may lose their job;
  • Vicarious Liability: Sometimes, an employee may be authorized to perform tasks involving extra responsibilities. For instance, a teacher may be assigned to escort students on a field trip. For some lawsuits, the question of the scope of the teacher’s liability in the event something goes wrong off school property can become a legal issue;
  • Wrongful Termination: This can become an issue, for instance, if a school worker’s employment is terminated without cause;
  • Breach of Contract: If a school employee has a contract with the district that employs the worker and is fired in violation of the terms of the contract, then the employee might have a cause of action for breach of contract;
  • Discrimination: Lastly, schools cannot violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws in any aspect of employment, including hiring, promotion, and firing.

In addition, many of the employees in a school may be members of a union. Teachers may be members of unions, and the collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the union may regulate the employment relationship.

For example, in many of the 35,000 school districts in the U.S., teachers belong to a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers or the National Education Association, the two largest teachers’ unions. The local union negotiates many of the terms and conditions of the employment of their members with a school district. A collection bargaining agreement or union contract contains these terms and conditions.

This contract may specify the hours teachers must work, how their performance is evaluated, and what steps the district must take if a teacher’s performance is considered not to measure up to standards. There may be a process that both sides of the employment must follow if they have a grievance.

Teachers are not the only school employees who may be union members. Other employees, such as administrators, e.g., school principals and custodians, and maintenance workers, might also be members of unions.

Their union’s contract may govern many aspects of the employment of these employees. If they have disputes in the workplace about any aspect of their employment, they would first review their union contract and consult with a union representative. The union representative could advise a person on the help the union can provide, depending on the circumstances of the dispute. The collective bargaining agreement may require that certain steps be followed if there are disputes before the parties can turn to outside resources.

What Can I Do If I Am Fired from My School Employment?

If a person is fired from their school employment, they will consult an employment attorney to review the options for filing a lawsuit. Most often, the remedy provided in most lawsuits involving employment issues would be an award of compensatory damages to reimburse a person for their economic and non-economic losses.

In addition, obtaining a court order to reinstate the employee to their former position might be possible if they were fired. The main component of compensatory damages in a school employment case would probably be the loss of wages, salary, and other past and future benefits that the fired worker suffered. Non-economic damages cover pain and suffering, which might be an issue in a wrongful termination case.

A person might sue for breach of contract if they have an employment contract with their school employer and believe that they have been fired in violation of the terms of the contract. Or a person might sue for wrongful termination if they believe their employment was not at will and they were fired without cause.

If a school employee believes that they have been treated unfairly because of their race, national origin, color, religion, sex, family status, pregnancy, gender identity or sexual orientation, disability, age, or genetic information, they will begin to seek redress by filing a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or their state’s equal employment/anti-discrimination agency.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with My School Job Issue?

If you have been fired from your school employment or have a dispute with your school or school district employer, you want to consult an experienced government lawyer.

Your lawyer can review the facts of your case and determine if a union contract and union grievance procedures play a role in your situation. They will be able to advise you on the best way to proceed to protect your rights and seek the relief to which you may be entitled.

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