Attorney general files lawsuit against Labor Cabinet over sickout subpoenas

Teachers protesting in the Capitol Building | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit against the Bevin administration on Monday to block the Labor Cabinet’s subpoenas of 10 school districts, which had sought the names of teachers who participated in “sickouts” to close schools in protest of legislation.

After the Labor Cabinet issued the subpoenas in early April, Beshear called them unlawful and made a public call for Secretary David Dickerson to rescind them. Dickerson responded to Beshear with a four-page letter last week indicating that the subpoenas would not be pulled and criticizing the attorney general for not upholding the law.

At a news conference Monday morning announcing his lawsuit, Beshear said that the Labor Cabinet subpoenas were part of an effort by Gov. Matt Bevin to bully, threaten and intimidate teachers into silence — including the possibility of fining them up to $1,000 each — which he would not allow to go unchallenged.

The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction to block the subpoenas as unlawful because there was no strike or work stoppage under the law, as there was no labor dispute between teachers and their school district employers. It also asserts that even if there was a labor dispute, the sickouts would have had to have been about teachers’ employment conditions or pay in order to qualify as a strike or work stoppage, but they were actually about legislation creating tax credits for private school scholarship donations.

“This type of retaliation, intimidation and threats by a governor and his administration must not be allowed,” said Beshear. “The bully pulpit was never meant to bully and I’m not going to let him use it.”

The Bevin administration responded with a statement from the governor’s chief of staff Blake Brickman, who accused “candidate Beshear” of being “more concerned about politics than the law” and calling the lawsuit his “latest stunt.”

“His fear-mongering rhetoric about fining teachers is false, and no such decision has been made or will be made until after the Office of the Inspector General completes its lawful investigation,” stated Brickman.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association joined the attorney general in the lawsuit, with its president Brent McKim noting at the news conference that while the teachers’ union had cautioned against several of the JCPS sickouts, such a move was protected by their First Amendment rights.