Teacher sues Cherokee County School District, school district releases statement

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GAFFNEY, S.C. (WSPA) – A former Cherokee County teacher is suing the school district, claiming she had to do work outside of teaching for the district without extra pay. She also claims she spent her own money for school supplies and had to work while on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The teacher’s attorney John Reckenbeil said teachers pay when schools in South Carolina are underfunded.

“I think it’s rampant,” Reckenbeil said.

He filed the lawsuit last week.

Reckenbeil believes this is a problem across the state, so he and his client are trying to get other teachers on board with a class action lawsuit.

The teacher, Shannon Burgess, said she had to work concession stands at athletic events. Reckenbeil said she had to work 10 to 35 hours there per year. He said non-academic work like that falls outside of teachers’ contracts, and they should be compensated accordingly. The suit is asking for back pay.

The suit also accuses the district of violating the law by making teachers spend their own money in order to do their jobs.

“When you do not receive that money free and clear when you are required to give it off to a third party at the direction of your employer, that’s a kick-back,” Reckenbeil said.

He said that’s what happened when his client had to spend $60 to $80 each year on gift baskets for a PTA auction. He said that’s just one example how teachers having to spend their salaries on classroom supplies.

The president of the South Carolina Education Association, Sherry East, said it’s a huge problem across the state, and many teachers have to pay for the basics out of their own pockets.

“Pencils, pencil sharpeners, clocks, staplers…things that you would think when you went into a job that would be there for you,” East said.

East also claimed work outside of the classroom is often used as a bargaining chip for teachers.

“That’s just wrong,” East said. “It’s wrong on so many levels.”

The school district released the following statement on Monday, August 19:

“On Friday, August 16th, the Cherokee County School District received a copy of the lawsuit filed against the District by Shannon Burgess in which Ms. Burgess claims the District violated her rights under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act. Ms. Burgess is seeking compensation from the District for work she performed outside of her regular teaching activities and outside the normal hours of classroom teaching. Specifically, Ms. Burgess states she was “required to work as a non-compensated concession stand attendant” at after-school sporting events in which Granard Middle School students participated. Ms. Burgess’ Complaint also states she was unlawfully required to spend her own money to purchase a gift basket to be raffled in connection with her school PTO’s fund-raising activities.

Because this matter involves pending litigation, the District will not comment on specific assertions set forth in Ms. Burgess’ suit, other than to state the District believes it has at all times complied with the laws referenced in Ms. Burgess’ Complaint. As Superintendent, I understand and empathize with the fact that our teachers are asked not only to teach for approximately 7.5 hours per day, but also to prepare lesson plans, grade student work, and perform other duties outside the regular school day. Without our teachers’ hard work, dedication, and willingness to “go the extra mile” for our students and our community, the Cherokee County School District would not be able to function.”

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Dr. Dana Fall

Reckenbeil said a judge will have to approve the class action certification, an he expects that decision to come in the next few months.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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