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Ruling on substitute teachers' underpayment case is upheld


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POSTED: Monday, November 02, 2009

The Intermediate Court of Appeals has upheld a 2005 Circuit Court ruling that found the Department of Education underpaid Hawaii substitute teachers millions of dollars.

In the Friday ruling, the court found Circuit Judge Karen Ahn was right in ruling that a 1996 state law required the department to pay substitute teachers the same daily rate as “;class II teachers”; from 2000 to 2005.

The state paid a lesser rate that amounted to a loss of about $3,000 per year for regularly employed substitute teachers, said Paul Alston, the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

The suit was filed in 2002 by David Garner, a substitute teacher on Maui.

It is unclear when the plaintiffs will receive their back pay.

Lawyers will have to go through the daily records of about 5,000 substitute teachers at the Education Department to calculate how much back pay is owed, which could add up to about $30 million, Alston said.

While he said he is “;gratified”; the court agreed with Ahn on the back pay, Alston said the plaintiffs lost on the issue of whether they should be paid interest on the damages.

A state law entitles a party to interest when there is a contractual obligation that is not paid, Alston said. After nine years the interest on the back pay could be about $10 million, he added.

“;We will likely ask the Supreme Court to review the decision on that issue,”; he said.

Both sides have 90 days to appeal.

Deputy Attorney General Dorothy Sellers, who represented the state on the appeal, would not comment yesterday.

Alston said the plaintiffs will also approach the Legislature about legislation in 2005 that granted interim raises to substitutes pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Garner could not be reached for comment.

Alston said he has probably lost about $25,000 worth of pay since the suit was filed because schools have stopped employing him.