A judge sided Friday with Mayor Mitch Landrieu in his fight with city employees about the overhaul of municipal personnel rules, finding that city employees failed to prove they were entitled to sue.
Friday’s ruling against the Concerned Classified City Employees, an organization made up of active and retired city workers, is the Landrieu administration’s second major courtroom victory over employees seeking to overturn the new rules. Judge Robin Giarrusso’s ruling leaves intact Landrieu’s Great Place to Work Initiative, which was passed by the city’s Civil Service Commission in August.
In December, Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julien found that a lawsuit filed by the Fraternal Order of Police to block key parts of the initiative was premature.
Giarrusso did not explain her legal reasoning for the ruling, which was preceded by brief arguments from the plaintiffs’ attorney Arthur Smith, as well as lawyer Gilbert Buras for the commission and Greg Feeney for the city.
The Concerned Classified City Employees, led by city retiree Randolph Scott, a longtime opponent of Landrieu’s attempts to change the city’s Civil Service rules, argued that the commission should legally have seven members, not five as it does. Therefore the three-to-one vote for Great Place to Work did not constitute a legal majority. The argument was based in an inconsistency between the state constitution, which calls for five members, and the city charter, which calls for seven.
The constitution trumps the charter. However, the language in the constitution applies to “each city having a population exceeding four hundred thousand” or in smaller cities provided a local option election has been held. Since New Orleans’ population dipped below that threshold post-Katrina, and no election had been held, the charter provision should have taken effect, Smith argued.
“The provisions of the home rule charter provide that basically if the state law on civil service commissions ceases to be applicable, the home rule charter provisions actually kick in as law,” Smith said in the hearing. “We believe it has gone away because it only applies to cities above 400,000.”
But unlike constitutional language on civil service commissions in smaller cities, the constitutional provision applied to New Orleans does not reference the most recent Census count. And the city’s population was above 400,000 at the time it was adopted, as both Buras and Feeney pointed out.
Buras argued that the workers had no right to sue because they weren’t claiming that the Great Place to Work Initiative deprived them of any protected rights.
In an interview after the hearing, Smith told The Lens that he doesn’t believe Friday’s ruling will mean an end to the suit.
“I think there will be an appeal. It’s up to the clients, but I would recommend it,” Smith said. “It’s unfortunate that the judge didn’t give a single word of reasoning.”