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Court win by fired Clark County teachers brandished in union dispute

Updated October 5, 2018 - 7:26 pm

Fifteen Clark County School District teachers who were terminated in 2013 will receive back pay and benefits after a federal judge ruled in their favor this week.

The ruling was touted by the Nevada State Education Association as a win in the midst of its ongoing battle with its estranged former local affiliate, the Clark County Education Association.

The complaint, filed in 2015, argued that the teachers were denied due process when they were moved from post-probationary status to probationary status and later fired.

Educators are placed on probationary status when they start working, meaning they can be fired without cause. A bill passed in 2011 required that teachers who received unsatisfactory evaluations for two years in a row be returned to probationary status.

But when the teachers were fired, neither the evaluations nor the notices of re-employment as probationary teachers provided sufficient notification to the teachers that they would lose their post-probationary status, the U.S. District Court judge ruled.

“The notices of intent also did not mention the opportunity to contest the loss of post-probationary status at a hearing,” the opinion states.

The judge also ruled that the union’s contract at the time didn’t inform members about the district’s duty to provide teachers with notice that it was considering terminating their post-probationary status.

The NSEA is touting the ruling, claiming that it carried on the fight after the CCEA failed to provide a contract with due process provisions and then didn’t take the issue to arbitration. The two unions have been in a battle for members since the local union voted to disaffiliate from its parent group in April.

“This win for members emphasizes the benefit of belonging to a union that’s backed by NSEA,” said Chet Miller, the president of the Nevada Education Association of Southern Nevada, which formed in alliance with NSEA after the disaffiliation vote. “When CCEA was unsuccessful, NSEA continued the fight with the resources to set things right.”

NSEA Executive Director Brian Lee estimated the financial award to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.

The CCEA argues that the NSEA was obligated to bring the case because NSEA was the parent affiliate of the local union at the time. It also notes that the case was initially funded by CCEA.

“NSEA has mischaracterized this case in an attempt to lay blame on CCEA for political reasons,” Michelle Kim, CCEA’s director of strategic initiatives, said in an email.

Through a legal services agreement between the two groups, the CCEA funded the initial challenge on the issue, while an NSEA attorney represented the teachers, Kim said.

Teacher Joseph Portilla, one of the teachers who lodged the complaint, didn’t take sides but welcomed the ruling.

“It is a great vindication of the teachers that were summarily victimized by unethical procedures that were used at (the Clark County School District),” he said.

Portilla said he got unfair, untruthful evaluations while a teacher at Vegas Verde Elementary.

After he lost his job in Clark County, it was hard to get hired, he said. He moved to California, where he now works as a fifth-grade teacher.

District spokeswoman Melinda Malone said in a statement that officials have received the judgment and will discuss next steps with trustees.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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