A judge postpones her
decision on a class-action suit
A state judge deferred a ruling yesterday on a class-action lawsuit by substitute teachers who say that the state Department of Education owes them millions in back pay.
Circuit Judge Karen Ahn deferred her decision until Dec. 6, and she requested further briefings on contractual claims for about 9,000 substitutes who are seeking back pay from Nov. 8, 2000, to the present.
"She is still considering whether we can sue based on contractual claims. ... So we're going to come back and argue all of that again on Dec. 6," said Paul Alston, one of the attorneys representing the substitutes.
The lawsuit, filed in February 2002, sought back pay for substitutes from 1996 to the present.
Ahn agreed with Deputy Attorneys General Jonathan Swanson and Kathryn-Jean Taniguchi, who represented the Department of Education, that claims before Nov. 8, 2000, were barred by the statute of limitations.
"I'm confident that we are correctly laying out the issues for the judge, and we continue to believe that we have good arguments in our favor in the remaining issues," said Deputy Attorney General Jim Halvorson, supervisor of the Employment Law Division.
In July 1, 1996, a state law took effect that stated a substitute teacher shall be paid the same daily rate of a teacher who has a four-year college degree.
The state contends that it is paying substitutes the correct amount.
Alston said that he looks forward to convincing Ahn that the state's arguments are nonsense. "The Department of Education has used a variety of schemes and gimmicks to underpay them."
Substitute teachers say they are currently paid $119.80 a day but should be getting $150.
Some substitutes said the department shows disrespect by not paying them the same amount as college-educated teachers.
"Substitute teachers are out in the classrooms to continue the learning process for students," said David Garner, a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. An estimated $3 million of back pay a year is owed to substitutes, Garner said.
"This has been an injustice for eight years," he added. "The law has never changed."
Substitute teachers are not represented by the Hawaii State Teachers Association or any other bargaining unit.