At 11 am this morning, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood sided with Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys and ruled that legislation stripping teachers of their vested employment rights violated the North Carolina and the United States Constitutions.
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 has 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.
In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation stripping teachers of these employment protections. The scheme purported to replace career status with a new system, in which teachers would be employed under one-, two-, or four-year contracts. When a school board fails to renew an experienced teacher’s contract, the new system would deny that teacher any right to a hearing challenging that decision.
Representing a group of teachers and the North Carolina Association of Educators, Patterson Harkavy’s Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the 2013 legislation.
Today, Judge Hobgood ruled that this legislation violated the United States Constitution’s Contracts Clause and the North Carolina Constitution’s Law of the Land Clause. The State failed to produce any evidence indicating that the repeal of career status was necessary to accomplish any public purpose. In contrast, Patterson Harkavy produced the affidavits of school administrators who consistently discussed how career status was not a barrier to removing bad teachers, but instead helped schools attract and retain good teachers despite their low salaries.