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GAE Recovers Money for 150 Teachers in
DeKalb Schools Liquidated Damage Case
“GAE is the best professional investment I’ve
ever made,” said Chayka Bettis.
In 2014, teachers Chayka Bettis and Leslie
Hein, who resigned and relocated for family
reasons, sued the DeKalb County School
District, claiming breach of contract and
violation of the implied duty of good faith and
The lawsuit argued that, under the
Georgia Supreme Court’s 1976 decision
in Southeastern Land Fund Inc. v. Real
Estate World, 237 Ga. 227, the Georgia
Supreme Court established a three-pronged
test for determining whether a liquidated
damages clause is valid and enforceable.
Bettis and Hein both signed one-year
employment contracts for the 2014-2015
school year. The contract, which contained a
liquidated damages provision, provided that
each employee would pay the school system
$750 if she breached the contract.
Before June 1, 2014, both Ms. Bettis and
Ms. Hein submitted a letter of resignation
and accepted job offers with other school
districts without first being released from the
“We only had one week to sign the contract
or find another job. That can’t be done in a
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No hiring process works that fast,” said Ms.
Hein. “The liquidated damages clause,”
added Ms. Bettis, “is a way for the county to
hold our jobs over our head.”
A response filing from the district argued
that the teachers had “willfully abandoned”
their contracts. Thus the $750 fee was not
a penalty, but meant to compensate for the
district’s costs in recruiting, interviewing, and
training replacement teachers.
DeKalb State Court Judge Dax Lopez ruled
in August 2016 that a jury must decide
whether the liquidated damages provision in
educator contracts is valid and enforceable,
clearing the way for the settlement.
According to Judge Lopez, “given the
fact that DCSD cannot provide any
documentation created or relied upon in
calculating the $750 liquidated damage,
there is certainly a question as to whether
DCSD sufficiently endeavored to meet
the pre-estimation requirement prior to
the execution of the contracts at issue or
whether the $750 amount is to some degree
arbitrary. Accordingly, this is a question best
left to a jury.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the
DeKalb County School District agreed to
pay more than $160,000 to settle a lawsuit
claiming the district illegally withheld $750
apiece from 150 teachers’ final paychecks
when they resigned at the end of the 2013
The district will send out a letter to each
educator instructing them on how to obtain
reimbursement through the DeKalb County
Superior Court. In addition to a $160,000
settlement, the suit also paid $50,000 in
attorney fees and placed a moratorium of
the liquidated damages provision in teacher
contracts for the 2017-2018 school year
“We filed the lawsuit hoping to establish
a state-wide precedent for all Georgia
educators,” said Network attorney Julie
Oinonen. “We hope that DeKalb will uphold
the moratorium and other school districts will
follow their lead.”
“I had good reason to break my contract,”
said Leslie Hein. “There is no other job that
I know of that punishes you for bettering
yourself or your career.”