By SABRINA CANFIELD
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – An elementary school teacher claims in court that she was fired for attending a union meeting.
Carla Jupiter, who holds a masters degree in education, began teaching at Mary D. Coghill Elementary School in 2010, when the school was run by the Louisiana Recovery School District.
Mary D. Coghill Elementary is located in New Orleans' 7th Ward, an area just outside of the French Quarter, and has roughly 630 students.
In 2013, when Better Choice Schools took over management of the school, Jupiter became a full-time contract employee
As recounted in a complaint filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Nov. 23, Jupiter was given yearly contracts to serve as testing coordinator at the school up to and including the 2015-16 school year.
“Ms. Jupiter was a stellar employee and among the highest educated teachers employed by Better Choice at Mary D. Coghill,” the lawsuit says.
In 2014, while Jupiter was completing her doctorate, she approached the school’s principal, defendant Aisha Jones, and told Jones she wanted to obtain her Educational Leadership Certificate that would qualify her to become a principal.
During the 2015-16 school year, Jupiter and some other employees began attending board meetings in an attempt to form a teacher’s union at the school, the complaint says.
Jupiter says she also asked Jones to perform the teacher evaluations that are required under state statute and had not been performed in over two years.
“Ms. Jones, who now perceived Ms. Jupiter as a threat due to her active involvement, her knowledge of Ms. Jones’s deficiencies as a principal and her ability to replace her, began to personally target Ms. Jupiter,” by taking away her job duties, the complaint says.
At the time, Jupiter says, she was the school's only testing coordinator. Jones had Jupiter train a coworker to coordinate testing and soon after took the responsibility away from her. Over time, the complaint says, Jupiter saw more of her responsibilities taken away.
Ultimately, Jupiter and another teacher, both of whom were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans and were involved in attempting to form a teacher’s union, were fired on the same day.
Jupiter claims Jones used the pretext that her job was being eliminated as grounds for firing her, but she says her former position was filled by another employee by the start of the next school year.
Jupiter says she is still owed wages for what remained of the school year when she was let go, and for vacation time she did not take.
Jones was subsequently given a different position in which she no longer had the authority to hire or fire employees.
But her dispute with Jupiter didn't end there, the complaint says. After 10 teachers were found to have missing grades, “Ms. Jones told the teachers that she investigated the issue and untruthfully stated that Ms. Jupiter deleted their grades in the computer system. Ms. Jones then instructed these teachers to sign statements regarding the missing grades.”
The complaint describes the alleged incident as "a last ditch effort to protect her inadequacies and ruin Ms. Jupiter’s name.”
Raymond Henry, a teacher at the school and an employee of Better Choice, contacted Jupiter about the missing grades and threatened her, the complaint says.
“In fear for her and her family’s safety, Ms. Jupiter obtained a temporary restraining order against Mr. Henry on January 13, 2016,” the lawsuit says.
Jones was fired at the end of the school year after playing the Chris Brown song, “Loyal,” at an end of year party, and saying the song was dedicated to all the untrustworthy people she had fired over the past year, the complaint says.
Representatives of the Better Choice Foundation and the Mary D. Coghill Elementary School did not respond to emails seeking comment about the lawsuit.
Jupiter seeks damages for breach of her employment contract, wrongful termination, unpaid wages and fraud.
The defendants named in the complaint include the state of Louisiana, the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Louisiana State Department of Education, the Louisiana Recovery School District, the Better Choice Foundation Inc. and Aisha Jones.
Jupiter is represented by Mary Russo of Frischhertz Pouillard Frischhertz Impastato in New Orleans.
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