Science Teacher Denied State Protection over Wage Disputes

students and science teacher work on an experiment together.

 From KUTV CBS 2:

by Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair

Bonnie Bourgeous is a science teacher. It's a passion that, in 2014, landed her a position at a newly founded public charter school, the Utah Military Academy.

It was a new school that didn’t have any science equipment so, Bourgeous says, she got permission to purchase science supplies with the promise that she would be reimbursed. But only a fraction of the $3700 worth of equipment and supplies she purchased was paid back, she claims.

Worse, Bourgeous says the school also withheld money she was promised from coaching and writing grants.

Bourgeous says the ongoing pay disputes prompted her to quit after just one quarter of work – though that led to another dispute. Bourgeous says she was shorted on her final paycheck about $4,300.

"It is in my contract that I have earned that money," she said.

When the school refused to pay, Bourgeous turned to the state of Utah for help, filing a complaint with the Utah Labor Commission. Bourgeous says she couldn't believe it when the commission refused to help because of where she had worked.

"Basically they said that as a Utah public charter school, they are a state entity, that I could not file with the state labor commission."

Having trouble believing that state employees are exempt from state protection, Bourgeous decided to Get Gephardt.

"But believe it," said Alison Adams-Perlac, Director of Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division at the labor commission. Adams-Perlac says they are eager to investigate all claims that come into their office but, like they told Bourgeous, they are forbidden from helping her.

“Right now it's really up to the legislature and they've made it very clear that the Wage Claims Act does not apply to public entities,” said Adams-Perlac.

In fact, Utah's Wage Claim Act carves out all sorts of protections for workers, then takes all those protections away for state employees. The enrolled law reads, “None of the provisions of this chapter shall apply to the state."

"It prevents us taking any action on claims that are filed against a public entity and there's also a statute that says a public charter school is a public entity," Adams-Perlac said.

Adams-Perlac says if Bourgeous wants help, she can try her luck with the feds -- the US Department of Labor -- or she can file a lawsuit.

For its part, the Utah Military Academy says it doesn't owe Bourgeous anything. In a statement from the school's lawyer which, because they are a public entity, is the Utah state Attorney General, said the academy is square on all wages owed.

Read more from: KUTV CBS 2.