Teachers protest in Frankfort

Teachers protest at the Capitol during the sixth "sick out" in two weeks for JCPS, Thursday, March 14. (WDRB Photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A federal judge sent Attorney General Andy Beshear’s lawsuit challenging the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s authority to subpoena teacher “sick out” records back to Franklin Circuit Court in ruling issued Thursday.

Beshear and the Jefferson County Teachers Association originally sued the cabinet in Franklin Circuit Court on April 29, but lawyers for the agency had the case moved to federal court, arguing that exhibits included in Beshear’s complaint raised First Amendment issues that shouldn’t be decided by a state judge.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves, who previously rejected Beshear’s motion for a temporary injunction to stop the Labor Cabinet’s investigation into possible illegal work stoppages as the case proceeded, disagreed.

“Exhibits alone do not create claims not stated in the Complaint, especially when it is readily apparent that a plaintiff has carefully avoided pleading them,” Reeves wrote in his ruling. “… While reference to federal constitutional law may be helpful in resolving the plaintiffs’ claims under the state constitution, the plaintiffs’ right to relief does not necessarily depend on the resolution of a substantial question of federal law.”

The Labor Cabinet subpoenaed 10 school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, that shut down after enough teachers requested sick leave to trigger closures during this year’s legislative session. Much of the information sought was later provided by the Kentucky Department of Education, including the names of teachers who asked for sick days in advance of the closures.

JCPS was shut down six days in a two-week period as teachers protested bills moving through the General Assembly, such as one that would legalize scholarship tax credits in the state. Only one of the bills that drew teachers’ ire, which allows JCPS superintendents to hire principals instead of school-based councils, ultimately became law.

The cabinet can issue penalties of up to $1,000 per day for those who participated in illegal work stoppages.

Beshear, in a statement, dismissed the push to move the case to federal court, calling it “a stall tactic intended to further intimidate our Kentucky teachers.”

“I will continue to fight in state court to ensure no teacher is bullied or fined by this administration,” he said.

Michael Swansburg, deputy secretary and general counsel for the Labor Cabinet, said the agency is “disappointed” in the ruling but respects Reeves’s “good-faith adherence to the law.”

“We expect that the Franklin Circuit Court will conduct a similar fair and impartial review of Kentucky law in this case moving forward,” he said in an email to WDRB News.

While Reeves sent the case back to Franklin Circuit Court, he did not grant Beshear's request that the cabinet pay legal fees associated with moving the suit to federal court because the request was not "objectionably unreasonable."

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