Articles Posted in Employment

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Georgia Whistleblower Miss MaeDell Clark sues Floyd County School District for retaliation. The news story that explains how the District terminated Miss Maedell after she complained of being cheated out of her wages is here.

Here is a press release from the Georgia Association of Educators:
maedell clark.pdf

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The Georgia State Department of Education’s recent ruling that charter systems must comply with the Fair Dismissal Act was an enormous victory for Gilda Day and every educator throughout Georgia. Nevertheless, Northwest Georgia Superintendent Jeff McDaniel and his Floyd County local board’s choice to appeal this statewide decision by arguing that no civil right applies single-handedly places at risk the rights of all Georgia educators in threatening to strip vital constitutional protections throughout the state.

The key to the State Board of Education teacher victory was the State Board’s interpretation of the charter school statute, specifically the term “civil rights.” An excerpt from the actual decision states: “[, the] Local Board contends that since the Fair Dismissal Act, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-940 et seg., is within Title 20, that it is not subject to the Fair Dismissal Act. The Local Board’s assertion is without merit. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065(b)(5) provides that charter systems are “[s]ubject to all federal, state, and local rules, regulations, court orders, and statutes relating to civil rights.” The Fair Dismissal Act provides due process rights to certain school employees, which is a civil right. Thus, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065(a) cannot be read so broadly as to violate the due process rights of school employees who are entitled to due process.”

Mike McGonigle, Legal Services Director of the Georgia Association of Educators says the importance of this decision cannot be overemphasized in this new environment of charter-mania and he points out that GAE led the fight against the initial removal of fair dismissal and for its eventual restoration. “What fair dismissal means is the right for teachers, administrators, and support professionals to simply teach children in a learning environment that is free from the fear of retaliation and at-will termination. Contrary to what opponents have always said, fair dismissal does not provide lifelong employment opportunities for incompetent educators. Without fair dismissal protection, teachers are at will employees who could be subjected to reprimand and dismissal based on false or frivolous, unsubstantiated complaints or decisions. Fair dismissal does not protect bad teachers. On the contrary, it protects good teachers from discriminatory, biased reprimands, and unfair treatment,” he said.

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workers.JPGOne of the main reasons many of our new clients contact our law firm is because they have heard how we were able to help save a friend or family member’s job and they need the same type of help. Oftentimes, they believe their boss is about to fire them because they see the writing on the wall, for example, they have just been placed on a professional improvement plan or professional development plan and they know their boss is building a paper trail against them to set them up for termination.

If that describes your situation, one of the most important thing you can do is to retain legal counsel immediately. As we tell clients, it is often quite difficult to “unring the bell” once the bell has been rung, i.e. an employee has been terminated from their job. However, before this happens, there is often time enough for legal intervention.

As many of you know, Georgia is an “at-will” employment state also known as a “right to work state.” This is really a misnomer as it should be called a “right to fire at will state.” This means, barring a legal exception, your boss can fire you simply because he or she doesn’t like you. That is reason enough as long as they not liking you doesn’t have to do with them not liking a protected status, for example, your skin color or the fact you are pregnant. There are several federal civil rights laws that protect employees from such type of discrimination, the most well-known of course being Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an individual regarding his employment because of an individual’s race, color, religion, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000 e-2(a)(1).

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justice-scales-gavel-fb.jpegChoosing a good lawyer to help you with a case, such as wrongful death, contract dispute, employment termination; asset forfeiture, and excessive force, can be very difficult.

Many blog posts advise you to make sure that (1) you feel comfortable with the lawyer you choose and that (2) the lawyer you choose has sound experience and understanding in the area you need representation in. While all that is true, there is one area that also demonstrates the quality of representation you will be obtaining to handle your case: your lawyer’s willingness and ability to handle an appeal of your case in front of a higher court.

Foremost, you may not read a lot of blog posts that talk about handling an appeal of your case in front of higher courts, because that means something may have went wrong with your case in the lower court. But here’s the reality: when you are going up against cities, school districts; law enforcement officials; public officials; big corporations; and hospitals–whether you win or lose at the lower court (trial court), one party is going to appeal, or threaten to appeal the loss, to the higher court (Appeals Court).

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Gilda.jpgGeorgia Education Lawyer was proud to represent our courageous educator, Ms. Gilda Day. Ms. Day won her appeal before the State Board of Education reversing the Floyd County Local Board of Education’s decision to non-renew her. This case has regularly drawn the attention of the front page of the Rome Tribune and can be reviewed here.

Ms. Day’s appeal was drafted by Ms. Julie Oinonen and her partner Mr. Mario Williams of Williams Oinonen LLC. “Providing teachers with procedural due process is a constitutional right and essential to maintain quality teachers in an increasingly difficult and underpaid profession” said Oinonen. “Under the Constitution, the government cannot take away life, liberty or a property interest without due process—it is a constitutional right that not even charter systems are permitted to waive. What due process does is provide teachers with a fair hearing: the right to notice and opportunity to be heard so that a superintendent or administrator cannot unfairly or indiscriminately fire a teacher without just cause, for discriminatory purposes, or simply a personal vendetta. Gilda Day’s courage and bravery has resulted in a victory for teachers throughout our state and a win for Georgia public education that is increasingly under attack by big money, outside interests who seek corporate takeover of our Georgia public schools.”

“Today’s State Board decision stating that charter schools and systems cannot waive the Fair Dismissal Act is a huge win for all teachers,” stated Mike McGonigle, general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). McGonigle was referring to the reversal of the Floyd County Board of Education’s decision that fair dismissal due process rights could be waived by charter schools.

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Gilda Day v Floyd County School District by julie9094

The Rome Tribune featured in the news today that Williams Oinonen LLC filed suit yesterday on behalf of one of the many Floyd County school educator clients, issuing the following statement:

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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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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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Paula Deen, her brother, and her companies have been sued for racial discrimination, assault, battery, sexual harassment, amongst other unlawful, humiliating conduct practiced upon their employees. Ms. Lisa T. Jackson is the plaintiff in this matter and the former general manager at one of Paula’s restaurants. Ms. Jackson worked for Paula Deen from approximately 2005 to 2010.

Hired to do “a man’s job:”
Paula Deen put her in the position of general manager to clean up her brother Bubba’s failing restaurant which was called “Uncle Bubba’s.” At that time, the complaint alleges that Paul Deen stated, “if you think I have worked this hard to lose everything because of a piece of p***y think again. . . And now I am going to do something I have never done. I am going to put a woman in a man’s job” giving Ms. Jackson six months to turn the restaurant around.

Called “my little Jew girl:”
The complaint alleges that in six months, Ms. Deen’s directive was accomplished and as a result she was called “my little Jew girl” by Paula’s brother and “almost Jewish” by their Certified Public Accountant (CPA). As general manager, Ms. Jackson alleges that in spite of her accomplishments, she was not paid a salary equal to her male counterparts and was told by the CPA that “women are stupid because they think they can work and have babies and get everything done” and that Paula’s brother Bubba “would not permit a woman to be paid any more than she was already paid.”

Ms. Jackson stated that she and her employees were subjected to oppressive sexual and racial harassment including being subjected to inescapable pornography that brother Bubba brought into her office every single day.

Sexual Harassment:
The complaint alleges that Paula Deen’s brother Bubba would ask Ms. Jackson if she would bring pictures of when she was young for him to view, would comment on her physical appearance, comment on other female employees physical appearance, and regularly made abusive comments that included talking about men putting beer on top of a woman’s head while “she is giving you a blowjob.” Ms. Jackson also alleges that Paula Deen’s brother Bubba Hiers forcibly and unlawfully grabbed her face, kissing her and spitting upon her.

Racial Discrimination Including Use of the N-Word:
Ms. Jackson (who is Caucasian) alleges in her complaint that both Paula Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers also subjected her to racially discriminatory conduct every single day. For example, the complaint Ms. Jackson states that when she asked Paula Deen what type of uniforms she preferred the servers to wear, Paula Deen responded by stating:

“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n*ggers to wear long sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. . .Now that would be a true southern wedding wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.” laughed Paula Deen to Ms. Jackson.

Keeping Blacks in the Back:
Ms. Jackson states in her complaint that all African American staff persons at her restaurant were required to use one restroom in the back of the restaurant and not the customer restrooms even though the white staff were allowed to. Additionally, she alleges that African American staff persons were not allowed to go to the front of the restaurant and that when Ms. Jackson hired two African American hostesses, Paula’s brother Bubba Hiers repeatedly complained. Ms. Jackson also alleges that Bubba would start drinking whiskey at approximately upon 10:00 a.m. where he began his day of drinking and abusive behavior.

“Don’t You Wish You Could Rub All The Black Off of You And Be Like Me?”:
The complaint alleges many of Bubba’s abuse including stating: “I wish I could put all those n*ggers [in the kitchen] on a boat to Africa;” that he told a black security guard: “don’t you wish you could rub all the black off of you and be like me. . you just look dirty I bet you wish you could;” told a vendor that he had a “bunch of coons in this kitchen,” told jokes using the word n*gger in the presence of others, physically and violently shook an African American kitchen staff person and challenged other black kitchen workers to fight him.

After five years of being subjected to Bubba Hier’s abusive violent conduct Ms. Jackson states she began developing enormous stress which caused her chest pains, panic attacks and later serious medical consequences which made her doctor insist she stay away from work and request that he admit her to the hospital. The complaint allege that she made pleas for relief to senior management reporting the discriminatory conditions and abusive treatment she confronted.

Ms. Jackson is asking that the Court permanently enjoin Paula Deen, her brother, and her companies from further unlawful conduct including awarding her damages and attorney fees.

To view the actual complaint, click here: Jackson v. Deen, et al. Complaint(1).pdf
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teacherstudent.JPGWilliams Oinonen LLC is happy to report recent success in representing a Georgia educator with decades of experience who had her contract non-renewed with the Fulton County School District. To add insult to injury, the school district denied her employment benefits putting this divorced mother at risk of losing her home and not being able to provide for her young children right before the Christmas holiday.

Williams Oinonen LLC generally bills clients in all employment matters but in this case, we accepted this matter on a pro bono basis as this successful educator had been a loyal client of ours in the past and was in an emergency situation in need of urgent help. It was the least we could do to help a dedicated and committed educator who had served the Georgia public schools for so many years.

We are happy to say that we were able to win our client’s appeal and she was awarded back pay and her unemployment benefits just in time for Christmas. We were humbled to receive from her the following email which she gave permission to share: