Articles Posted in Employment Law

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Williams Oinonen LLC filed suit today on behalf of our client Ms. Denise Davis, a courageous whistleblower and former DeKalb County School District Human Resources Administrator who contends that the DeKalb County Schools unlawfully RIF’d DeKalb County educators throughout the District by failing to comply with the Georgia Reduction in Force statute O.C.G.A. § 20-2-948 and their own District policy.

Specifically, she alleges in her complaint that they circumvented the RIF requirement to consider job performance as the primary factor by eliminating entire positions, then creating new titles that were in effect the same jobs that had been eliminated but were now simply under a different name upon which they selected new hires based on favoritism, friendship, or familial status.

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atkinsonatkinson.jpgSuperintendent Cheryl Atkinson just resigned as Superintendent amid much controversy.

The AJC reports on her resignation stating that the District is currently on probation after SACS the accreditation agency found evidence of fiscal mismanagement and unethical practices.

The recent lawsuit against her was dismissed after our client who had been non-renewed due to a reduction in force was rehired by the District.

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Senator Jones.jpgConcerning the recent lawsuit against DeKalb County School District, Senator Emanuel Jones, leader of the DeKalb’s Senate delegation commented on his concerns about the school district’s failure to respond to open records requests: “When they’re not responding, it just begs the question as to, ‘What are they hiding? What are they covering up?'” he says, “And it’s going to lead to more questions and it’s going to lead to more concerns from the public and all the other stakeholders.”

The AJC featured the story here and WSBTV’s Erica Byfield interviewed Senator Jones on the evening news in a piece that can be read here entitled “Lawsuit Raises Concerns About DeKalb Schools Corruption” The video can be seen here.

The news story quoted our law firm attorneys stating:

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Good Georgia Education Lawyer sued Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and DeKalb County School District on behalf of our client for violations of the Open Records Act in relation to a fair dismissal hearing where a graduation coach was non-renewed due to a reduction in force.

The complaint alleged that Defendant Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson thwarted the Georgia Open Records Act by withholding the production of public documents: text messages contained within her DeKalb County School District issued cellular phone. The complaint also alleged that the Superintendent made representations that she would be willing to offer Plaintiff a job and 11 (eleven) other of Plaintiff counsel’s clients who had been “RIF’d” (laid off due to a reduction in force) in exchange for Plaintiff being willing to withdraw her Georgia Open Records Act demand for the Superintendent’s text messages.

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teacher.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save the job of a Clayton County Public School teacher who had his contract non-renewed. Fortunately, we were able to aggressively intervene and the school system rescinded the non-renewal of the teacher, placing him back into the school system and awarding him all his retroactive back pay.

Said this teacher:

“My family appreciates your hard work and dedication to the case. You have brought so much joy and dignity back to our household and professional life. You worked hard and gave it your all to bring justice to our case. As a result, many will gain because you made it okay to fight for what is right!

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businessman.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save the job of a university administrator who worked for a college within the University System of Georgia. The University System of Georgia is the third largest university system in the United States and enrolls more than 310,000 students, employs more than 40,000 faculty and staff, and the combined annual operating budgets of all 35 institutions is over $6 billion.

Our client was a university professional who had a long history of working within the university system and had been wrongfully terminated. Fortunately, Williams Oinonen LLC was able to intervene and the university system rescinded the termination, placing him back into his position.

Stated our client:

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attorney.JPGWilliams Oinonen LLC was very gratified with the courage the Tribunal showed in making the right decision to reject Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s recommendation to terminate the contract of an educator in DeKalb County School District through a reduction in force.

While the educator ended up accepting a very attractive offer at a nearby school district so the Tribunal’s decision did not end up having to be ruled on by the Board, Ms. Oinonen hopes that the DeKalb County Board of Education will take note as to how the Reduction in Force is being applied, ask the right questions and demand accountability from the Superintendent in the future.

Regarding Ms. Oinonen’s legal representation, Mr. Lynch stated:

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tribunal.JPGIn a recent Fair Dismissal Hearing, the Tribunal published its “Findings of Fact and Recommendations to the DeKalb County Board of Education” stating that it “rejects the recommendation to terminate the contract” of a media specialist educator based upon the Reduction in Force plan.

Ms. Oinonen successfully argued that Dekalb County School District’s (DCSD’s) implementation of the Reduction in Force (RIF) plan is illegal and a violation of the new law, OCGA 20-2-948. This legislation, recently enacted in May 2012 holds it illegal to consider length of service as the primary factor in a RIF. Rather school districts must consider “performance of the educator” as the primary factor in implementing a reduction in force.

Ms. Oinonen argued that this is exactly what DCSD is violating although they denied it— using a seniority “first in last out system” by claiming that everyone is equal because everyone supposedly has an “overall” satisfactory performance evaluation.

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principal.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save an Assistant Principal’s job in one of the largest school district’s in Georgia.

Regarding Julie Oinonen, attorney at Williams Oinonen LLC, the Assistant Principal stated the following:

“First and foremost Julie was honest & attentive with me from our first meeting concerning my case. In addition, she was easily accessible by phone or e-mail throughout the duration of my case. She is a true professional. In the end, she protected my name, reputation, and secured my contract for the upcoming school year. Thanks!!!”

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It’s that time of year again, when sadly, many good teachers start to worry whether their principal or school administrator will issue them a non-renewal letter regarding their teaching contract. This can often happen if the teacher has been previously placed on a Professional Development Plan, or “PDP.”

One of the biggest way principals or school districts lay the groundwork in order to try and fire a tenured teacher is by putting them on a PDP early on in the school year. Laying the “paper trail” even when the accusations against the teachers are not legitimate, is the most effective legal strategy that school districts use to try and ensure that future adverse employment action against the teacher is deemed legal and fair.

One administrator estimates that 50% of the teachers placed on a Professional Development Plan (“PDP”) are successful in completing it. School administrators know this ‘game’ when they place the teacher on a PDP. Oftentimes the end purpose is not to improve the teacher’s performance, but rather simply to have legal justification for firing the tenured teacher down the road. To do this successfully, some teachers end up being set up for failure by being placed in a no-win situation.

If you are a tenured teacher who has been placed on a PDP, it is vital that you immediately seek competent, legal counsel in order to begin to fight the one-sided paper trail that will be used to justify non-renewal of your teaching contract from day one.

It is also important to educate yourself on your legal rights as a Georgia teacher. For example, if a school board terminates, suspends, or demotes a teacher in the middle of a contract year, the teacher has a right to be represented by counsel during a hearing – even if the teacher is not tenured (O.C.G.A. 20-2-940). If a school board attempts to non-renew a tenured teacher’s contract, the teacher again has a right to a non-renewal hearing. (O.C.G.A. 20-2-942).

Good Georgia Lawyer has written about the rights of teachers relating to employment termination and contract non renewal which we recommend you read here and here.

The important thing is to act sooner rather than later if you are a teacher facing a potential adverse employment action. All too often, human beings procrastinate rather than dealing with the scary things in life that we don’t want to have to face such as the loss of a job in this difficult economy. As a result, clients are oftentimes calling us after the fact rather then early on when it is much easier to help them.

Don’t end up in a case of too little, too late. The sooner an attorney is on your side, the better the chance your employment as a teacher in a challenging work environment will have a successful outcome.
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