Parents drop lawsuit against West Ada Education Association

West Ada Education Association President Eric Thies testifies during a Oct. 15 school board meeting. Photo courtesy of West Ada School District.

Parents suing the West Ada Education Association agreed to dismiss the case Monday, after the union’s president said in court filings that it does not intend to call for future strikes.

The lawsuit was filed in late October, on the last day of a two-day district teacher “sickout.” The West Ada School District closed schools on Oct. 19 and 20 after hundreds of teachers called in sick, protesting the district’s decision to continue in-person school after Ada County moved to the “red” or highest risk category for the spread of COVID-19. 

Parent Roy Ratliff and four other anonymous West Ada school  district parents sued the union. Their complaint argues the sickout was an illegal strike, and that the resulting school closures caused undue emotional and financial stress on families.

Ada County District Court judge Michael Reardon held one hearing in the case, on Oct. 26, and declined to issue an injunction barring the union from continuing the sickout (which actually ended the same day the lawsuit was filed). He also said he wasn’t entirely convinced of the parent’s argument that teacher strikes are always illegal in Idaho.

I don’t agree the law is as clear as I believe you’d like me to believe it to be,” Reardon told Daniel Suhr, an attorney at the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, which helped represent the parents.

A second hearing was set for Monday, when Reardon would have likely considered a union motion to dismiss the case, while deciding whether the parents could continue to sue the union anonymously.

Instead, lawyers from both parties agreed to drop the case. In a celebratory news release, the Liberty Justice Center, which represented the parents, and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which recruited the parents to sue the union, said the case achieved what it set out to do: prevent further sickouts and strikes.

“In court filings last week, the union promised the court that they would not engage in another work stoppage, such as a strike or sickout,” Suhr wrote in an emailed statement. “That was sufficient basis for us to open discussions to end the case, knowing that West Ada parents’ goal had been achieved.”

In legal filings, the West Ada Education Association said it did not originate the idea of teachers calling in sick, and was not directly responsible for any injury to parents caused by the district’s decision to close schools.

Union lawyers asked Reardon to throw out the case because parents lacked standing to sue over what was “purely a potential dispute between employer and employee.”

But in an affidavit to the court, teachers union president Eric Thies also wrote that he didn’t consult legal counsel before “actively supporting the teachers taking sick leave,” and didn’t understand the legal issues surrounding the sickout.

“I have since consulted with legal counsel and now understand that public sector labor strikes may be illegal in Idaho under the common law,” Thies wrote. “…While we cannot control what individual teachers do, (West Ada Education Association) does not intent to organize or encourage sickouts or work stoppages that violate existing law.”

The West Ada Education Association called the lawsuit a publicity stunt manufactured by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, without legal merit.

“We are glad this sideshow has been dealt with so we can all focus on the most important issue — the safety  of students and staff in the West Ada School District,” the West Ada Education Association and Idaho Education Association said in a joint news release.

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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