Douglas County teachers union proposes lawsuit settlement

Legal battle over sick leave bank was initiated in 2013

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The Douglas County teachers' union has proposed settling a lawsuit against the Douglas County School District that dates back to 2013 and alleges the district improperly dissolved thousands of sick leave bank hours.

The dispute arose with the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement between the district and the union in 2012. The agreement ended that year when the district and union failed to negotiate a renewal.

Douglas County Federation President Kallie Leyba said the district robbed teachers of sick leave because it terminated the program when the collective bargaining agreement ended, something the union says it didn't agree to. There were an estimated 7,500 days still in the bank.

Leyba in early September spoke to the Douglas County School Board requesting directors reinstate the sick leave bank. She also asked directors to restore Public Employees Retirement Association contributions, also called PERA, that teachers did not earn while on disability.

Four union representatives sued the district in 2013 over the sick leave bank hours. One of them, Sarah Staebell, died of cancer before the lawsuit could be resolved.

Under the policy, teachers donated one of their sick days to the bank each year, which teachers could use in the event of a long-term illness or condition that depleted their normally allotted sick and vacation time.

Leyba said the court has certified a class of more than 1,000 teachers to bring the suit against the district, and a monetary settlement would cost the district millions.

“Teachers want reform, not money, to resolve this case,” she told Colorado Community Media. “That's the offer we made to the board — make it right without taking dollars out of the classroom.”

A spokesman said the district would not comment on the offer or lawsuit because, “this case involves confidential settlement discussions.”

The sick leave bank allowed teachers to continue receiving their full salary and benefits and make PERA contributions while on leave. Once the program was terminated, the district implemented a short-term disability policy that covers 70% of a teacher's salary and no PERA credits.

After the lawsuit was initiated, then Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen wrote to families, saying the sick leave bank was improperly funded and budgeted and that the disability benefit offered employees tax-free dollars.

The district filed a motion in April 2013 requesting the union's lawsuit over the sick leave bank be dismissed. The case eventually moved to arbitration and has remained in mediation since then.

It now resides in federal court and is set for a July 13, 2020 trial date. Leyba said the union hopes to reach a settlement before going to court.

“(Teachers) want the dignity and the opportunity to help each other,” Leyba said. “It was stolen from them and they want it back.”

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