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Hawaii substitute teachers lose claim to millions in back pay

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    Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, shown here in a February hearing, authored an opinion issued today that reversed a 2015 Oahu Circuit Court ruling that had awarded hourly back wages to substitute teachers.

The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled that several thousand public school substitute teachers are not entitled to millions of dollars in back wages and interest that a lower court had previously awarded.

In an opinion issued today and authored by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, the court reversed a 2015 Oahu Circuit Court ruling that had awarded hourly back wages totaling $6.8 million to substitute teachers who had worked part-time for the Department of Education from November 2000 to June 2012. That ruling had also awarded interest on the back wages totaling $13.5 million.

At issue were daily wages paid to substitute teachers as well as hourly wages paid to part-time temporary teachers.

The dispute stems from a 2002 class-action lawsuit covering more than 8,000 substitute teachers who argued that the DOE failed to calculate substitute teachers’ daily wages correctly and didn’t come through on pay raises for years. The lawsuit also challenged part-time hourly wages that were linked to the substitute pay rate at the time.

The class-action suit was partially settled in 2014 when a judge awarded more than $14 million to settle only the daily wage claims for substitutes. The parties had disagreed on whether hourly back wages and interest on daily and hourly wages were owed.

The Supreme Court ruled the plaintiffs are not entitled to hourly back wages nor interest on hourly back pay or the settled daily back wages. The opinion also affirmed a lower court ruling in a separate challenge that had denied $9.5 million in interest for back wages owed to part-time teachers.

“The state and DOE appreciate the part-time teachers important contribution to the education of our youth. They can and should be paid for that contribution. But the state also has a duty to all citizens to ensure that part-time teachers are not paid more than they are owed,” Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement.

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