LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson has moved to federal court a lawsuit challenging his agency’s subpoenas to school districts closed during six “sick outs” during this year’s legislative session.
Dickerson, through his deputy secretary and general counsel Michael Swansburg, filed a notice of removal in U.S. District Court Thursday, essentially moving the case filed by Attorney General Andy Beshear and the Jefferson County Teachers Association from Franklin Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Swansburg argues in the removal notice that federal court is the proper venue for the complaint since it centers on constitutional concerns.
The cabinet said in a statement that Beshear's "initial filing raises a federal question related to the First Amendment and should be heard by a federal court" instead of Franklin Circuit Court.
Beshear said in a statement that his side will "ask the federal court to return it to state court where it should be.”
The cabinet has subpoenaed school districts for information related to the six sick outs between Feb. 28 and March 14, including the names of teachers who flooded their districts with sick leave requests and caused schools to close for their Capitol protests.
The agency’s inspector general is investigating the closures as potentially illegal work stoppages since public workers can’t strike under state law. The cabinet can issue up to $1,000 in civil penalties per offense.
"These subpoenas are merely a first step in the Cabinet’s investigation and do not indicate what action, if any, may ultimately be taken by the Cabinet," the agency said in its statement.
The school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, have until May 10 to comply with the subpoenas.
But the cabinet got most of that information from the Kentucky Department of Education, which also sought and received sick-out records from districts as it looks for local policy changes to prevent such closures in the future, on Thursday in response to a subpoena.
Beshear has contended that the sick outs should not be considered strikes or illegal work stoppages because teachers were not in labor disputes with the affected school districts, their direct employers. He's also said the cabinet's investigative efforts unlawfully target teachers' protected free speech.
A hearing on Beshear’s motion for a temporary restraining order had been scheduled for 9 a.m. in Franklin Circuit Court. Records show the case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Danny Reeves, who is reviewing Beshear's motion for a restraining order.
In a video posted on his office’s Twitter page on Friday, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful said teachers “should not be going through this.”
“This is wrong, and I’m going to stop it,” Beshear said. “I’m going to make sure that no one out there gets fined.”
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.