Patterson Harkavy Challenges Constitutionality of Legislation Stripping Teachers of their Employment Rights

Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh filed suit yesterday against the State of North Carolina, challenging a recently-enacted law eliminating employment protections for experienced public school teachers.  Burton and Narendra represent the North Carolina Association of Educators and six individual teachers in the suit.

For over forty years, North Carolina public school teachers have been able to earn “career status” after successful completion of a four-year probationary period and a favorable vote by a teacher’s school board.  A teacher with career status can only be demoted or dismissed for good cause, and had the right to a hearing in which he or she could contest a dismissal or demotion decision.  All of North Carolina’s neighboring states provide teachers a comparable system of basic employment protections.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation stripping teachers of these employment protections.  Under the new system, teachers will be employed under one-, two-, or four-year contracts.  When a school board fails to renew an experienced teacher’s contract, the new system denies that teacher any right to a hearing challenging that decision.  Veteran teachers with career status will be stripped of that status as of July 1, 2018; teachers who have yet to earn career status will never be able to receive it, and will be employed on one-year contracts until 2018.

The plaintiffs allege that they chose to accept and maintain teaching positions in part because they could and did earn career status rights.  They allege that teachers have a contractual and property interest in retaining career status protections, and that stripping them of their rights violates the North Carolina Constitution’s Law of the Land clause and the United States Constitution’s Contracts Clause.  The Law of the Land Clause requires North Carolina to provide just compensation when depriving a citizen of property; the Contracts Clause limits states’ ability to substantially impair individuals’ vested contractual rights.

Burton and Narendra’s lawsuit follows on the heels of last week’s suit challenging the constitutionality of recently-enacted legislation funneling public money into private schools through a private school voucher system.

For more information on Burton and Narendra’s most recent suit, read the Complaint, news coverage of the controversy, or the NCAE’s press release.