Laid Off UTMB Employees File Suit

More than three-thousand employees laid off by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston are taking their case to court. Their attorney has filed a lawsuit that say the decision to lay off the workers was made illegally. Bill Stamps has more from Galveston.
Hurricane Ike caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to Galveston. There are homes damaged so bad the owners are not returning. There are businesses with roofs or entire walls blown off. Their owners are not rebuilding. And then there's the University of Texas Medical Branch – a campus of hospitals and research buildings. Parts of it were under 8 feet of water. They estimate it would cost 700 million dollars to fix and replace everything lost or damaged. And so the board decided to lay off 3,800 employees. Now some of those employees are filing a lawsuit saying the decision was made illegally.

"We say in the lawsuit that the meeting when they went into executive session, where there's no one allowed, that that was illegal."

Attorney Joe Jaworski filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Texas Faculty Association and three other citizens.

"Under the state of Texas law you cannot have a[n] executive session meeting to discuss more than an individual personnel. This affected 3,800 people clearly that's not an individual."

Lawyers for the University have told them the board followed the rules of the Open Meetings Act and therefore did nothing wrong. But even if it was illegal to make the decision in a meeting amongst themselves, Jaworski admits the board could simply meet again publicly and still decide to lay off employees.

"Yes they can. But given the fact that they tried to do it the wrong way, there are motivations and reasons recorded, no doubt, on this tape that we hope to make available given the pending legislative session to people that can make a difference."

He's talking about the tape of the meeting. The lawsuit also asks that the tape be made public. Even if the employees win this case it could drag on for a year or more in court, which means either way they probably won't be getting their jobs back anytime soon.

Bill Stamps, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.