Teachers Union Sues CPS Over Layoffs, Turnarounds, Alleging Racial Discrimination

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced Wednesday that it has filed charges against the school district over discriminatory firing practices, and hinted at a larger action to be announced Thursday that will attempt to halt planned turnarounds at schools across the city.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the teachers contend that 43 percent of the teachers laid off by Chicago Public Schools in 2011 were black, even though African-Americans make up only 29 percent of the district's tenured staff, the union said in a release on their website. They're demanding that all 369 former staff members affected be rehired with back pay and damages with a cap at $300,000 per person--a huge ask for the already cash-strapped school district embarking on widespread and expensive improvement projects this year.

"The Board’s lay-off policy has had a systematic, class-wide, disparate impact on African-American teachers," CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. "We believe this policy violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and should be prosecuted by the EEOC."

The teachers union also complains that of the 930 layoffs during the last school year, teachers at schools with a higher-than-average percentage of African-American or low-income students were twice as likely to lose their jobs.

The union's second legal action targets planned "turnarounds" at 10 Chicago schools, a process that often includes laying off or relocating existing staff and replacing them, often with teachers trained to apply a charter school curriculum. All of the schools currently facing this CPS action are predominantly black, the basis for a civil rights lawsuit the union is also filing this week, seeking injunctive relief to stop the turnarounds and closures recently approved by the board.

"CPS has violated Illinois School Code; and has violated the civil rights of the plaintiffs under the Illinois Civil Rights Action of 2003 because the proposed actions disproportionately target African American student populations," the CTU said in a statement.

Teachers, parents and community leaders with ties to the schools facing overhauls or closures have been clashing with city and school administrators since the plan was announced, attending rowdy meetings and hearings on the subject and staging a series of protests and demonstrations as the proposal moved through approval stages.

The teacher's union and the school board have locked horns legally in the past, most recently with a lawsuit brought against the board in September contesting the implementation of longer school day schedules, a pet project of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.