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Hawaii's Substitute Teachers Win Back Pay Lawsuit

BY LAURA BROWN -- The Hawaii Supreme Court this week rejected the Department of Education’s appeal of a substitute teacher lawsuit asking for millions in back pay.

That means the Intermediate Court of Appeals 2009 decision in favor of the teachers stands and that the amount of back pay to as many as 10,000 substitute teachers will now be decided in Circuit Court.

Plaintiffs say they were underpaid by an estimated $30 million.

"It is now indisputable that from 1996 to 2005, the DOE leadership lied and cheated substitutes and stole millions from people who were providing essential services to Hawai`i's children.  While salaries for HSTA members were rising--quite fairly--nearly 40 percent during that period, substitutes' pay rose barely 3 percent due to the dishonesty of the DOE.  The fact this happened is outrageous, and the situation is made worse by the fact that it took nearly 8 years to confirm the substitutes' rights and the DOE will not pay interest on the stolen wages," says attorney Paul Alston.

The lawsuit is based on HRS 302A-624(e) enacted in 1996 that established a per diem rate of pay for substitute teachers’ salaries equal to Class II licensed teachers’ pay.

A Class II teacher is “any teacher who holds a certificate issued by the department based upon 4 years acceptable years of college education and other requirements as may be established by the DOE.”

Two class action lawsuits – Garner v. Department of Education was filed in 2002 and Kliternick v. Hamamoto in 2005 – claiming underpayment to substitute teachers in accordance with State law. The two lawsuits were consolidated in 2005.

In 2004, Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn ruled that plaintiffs would only be able to seek back pay from Nov. 8, 2000 to June 30, 2005, due to a 2-year statute of limitations from the time the class action lawsuit was filed in 2002.

The amount of back pay for that period is estimated at about $16 million.

In addition, substitute teachers’ pay was cut from $119.50 to $112.50 per day on January 25, 2005 as a result of a 2004 memorandum of understanding between the Superintendent of Schools and the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association Executive Director.

Substitute teachers claimed they were owed $150 per day. Substitute and part-time teachers do not receive any health care or pension benefits.

In 2005, the Circuit Court ruled in the substitute teachers’ favor. The Department of Education then appealed the decision to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.  That court also decided in the teachers’ favor.

The ruling affects another class action lawsuit filed in 2006 by part-time teachers. That lawsuit states that part-time teacher pay is tied to the substitute teacher pay scale and they were underpaid between 1996 and 2005.

Laura Brown is a reporter and researcher for Hawaii Reporter. Reach her at Laurabrown@hawaii.rr.com

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