Can a teacher, covered by a collective bargaining agreement maintain an action pursuant to Civil Service law 75-b, the Whistleblower’s Law?

No. Michele Ehrlich, an ESL teacher at PS 79 in Whitestone until her probationary termination in July 2011, complained to several DOE departments and some private advocacy groups about a violation of an IEP of one of her students. After her termination she claimed she was covered by the Whistleblower’s Law Section 75-b. (A federal claim concerning her free speech rights was dismissed in a federal action that had been removed to that court by the DOE).

Acting Justice Ellen M. Coin ruled that Ehrlich could not maintain her action under the Whistleblower’s law since she was covered by the UFT contract and was required to exhaust her remedies available under the grievance procedure before she could commence an action.

Ehrlich v. DOE (November 7, 2013, Decided)

Is an arbitration award which dismisses only one charge ripe for review and does the 3 year limitations period apply to a charge under 3020-a which alleges a criminal charge?

Yes and Yes. Michael P Hogan submitted an employment application to the Hauppauge Union Free School District in 2006 which in 2010 the school district alleged he failed to disclose that he had previously held a probationary teaching position with another school district and resigned after allegations were made that he used corporal punishment and he would not receive tenure.

Educations Law 3020-a prohibits the bringing of charges against a teacher which are older than 3 years. In Hogan’s case the District argued that the exception contained in 3020-a which allowed the bringing of charges older than 3 years when they sounded in a criminal charge applied since the application allegedly violated Penal Law 175.30, offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree.

The arbitrator dismissed the charge and was ready to hear the remaining two charges when the district appealed.

The Appellate Division, Second Department found that the criminal allegation exception applied and reinstated the charge. Additionally they found that even though the arbitrator’s decision did not make a finding of all pending charges the matter was ripe for review since the arbitrator dismissed the most serious charge.

Hauppauge Union Free School District v. Hogan (September 11, 2013, Decided)

Will failure to serve the DOE in an Article 75 proceeding within the proscribed period require that the petition be dismissed?

No. Under CPLR 306-b where the statute of limitations is less than 4 months  the action or proceeding must be served within 15 days of the expiration of the statute of limitations. There is no dispute that the petition in Portnoy v. NYCDOE was served well beyond the fifteen day period and the DOE moved to dismiss the proceeding. In denying that part of the DOE’s application Justice Wooten wrote that the application to dismiss would be denied in the interests of justice and in the interest of deciding the matter on its merit.

Portnoy had been charged with multiple specifications which resulted in his termination by Arbitrator Rosario. Justice Wooten affirmed the termination finding no basis that Arbitrator Rosario’s opinion and award violated public policy or Portnoy’s due process rights.

Portnoy v. NYCDOE

Will the Court uphold an arbitrator’s imposed fine for engaging in protected 1st Amendment free speech activity?

No. Richard Santer, a teacher employed by the East Meadow Union Free School District engaged, with other teachers, in a peaceful protest while negotiations for a new contract were underway. The protest involved picketing in front of a middle school which included parking their cars in front of the school and display their picket signs in their cars. This area was also used by the middle school’s students’ parents to drop off their children for school.

None of the teachers blocked either of two curb cuts in front of the school but according to the principal the protesting teachers’ parking caused traffic to become congested creating a safety concern for students being dropped off in the middle of the street.

No school official asked the teachers to move their cars during the protest, and no child was injured.

The school district brought disciplinary charges against several teachers under 3020-a and after an arbitration Santer was fined $500. His appeal was denied in Supreme Court.

On appeal to the Appellate Division Santer prevailed. The Appellate Division found that Santer’s free speech rights were violated and by bringing him up on disciplinary charges the school district, in effect, chilled free speech rights of all teachers concerning a matter of public concern.

N.B. In a case brought to the same Appellate Division, but a different panel, concerning the same incident but with a different teacher the Court held that the arbitrator was reasonable in upholding the discipline. In that case, Matter of Trupiano v Board of Educ. of E. Meadow Union Free School Dist., 89 AD3d 1030, 933 N.Y.S.2d 106) the teacher received a counseling memo. The Santer Court reasoned that Trupiano was not controlling since Trupiano did not raise a First Amendment claim in her petition.

Another teacher who was fined $1000 for the same incident was denied her appeal at the Supreme Court level. The Court there found that she engaged in an activity that endangered student safety. She did not appeal further. Barbara Lucia, Petitioner, against Board of Education of the East Meadow Union Free School District, Respondent. 32 Misc. 3d 1208A; 932 N.Y.S.2d 761; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3178; 2011 NY Slip Op 51210U (Nassau Sup.Ct., 2011)

In the Matter of Richard Santer, appellant, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, respondent. (Index No. 1997/10), 2010-11006, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8698; 2012 NY Slip Op 8750, December 19, 2012, Decided.

Must a grievant stick to the strict time limits for arbitration in the CBA to preserve their right to arbitrate?

No. Most collective bargaining agreements contain time limits to bring grievances up to and including arbitration and generally have provisions which require that all disputes governing the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement be resolved by arbitration.

In Rondout Valleya case recently decided by the Appellate Division, Third Department, a teachers’ union sought arbitration on a series of grievances which the school district claimed were untimely. The school district, rather than submitting the matter to an arbitrator to decide timeliness, went to Supreme Court and obtained a stay of arbitration based on the Court’s determination that the arbitration requests were late.

The Third Department reversed the lower court finding, “Where a collective bargaining agreement contains a broad arbitration clause, the question of whether a party has complied with the procedural requirements of the grievance process — such as time limitations — is to be resolved by an arbitrator absent “a provision expressly making compliance with the time limitations a condition precedent to arbitration” (citations omitted).

In the Matter of the Arbitration between BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE RONDOUT VALLEY CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent, and RONDOUT VALLEY FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, Appellant, et al., Respondent. 514914, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, THIRD DEPARTMENT, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8789; 2012 NY Slip Op 8862, December 20, 2012, Decided.

Does the termination of a dean of discipline for excessive corporeal punishment “shock the conscience” of the court?

Yes. A dean of discipline of a middle school in a gang-infested area of East New York, Brooklyn, was brought up on 3020-a charges of excessive corporeal punishment stemming from allegations that he placed an 11 year old in a headlock and threw a 13 year old against the wall. The dean denied both allegations and despite his statements the hearing found his story to be completely untrue and terminated him.

In a 3020-a hearing the Court will usually accept the facts as found by the arbitrator. The penalty, however, is held to a standard enunciated under Pell v. Board of Education. While this standard is less than precise it generally will defer to the arbitrator’s decision, after a full review of the teacher’s record, unless it “shocks the conscience” of the Court. In Principe v. Department or Education, it did.

The DOE argued that other cases of a single incident of corporal punishment which resulted in termination had been previously upheld by the Court. Both the Appellate Division, First Department and the Court of Appeals disagreed. In this case Peter Principe’s position of dean of discipline at a troubled middle school had to be taken into consideration. The cases cited by the DOE involved teachers in non-dean roles. Additionally the Appellate Division found, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, the arbitrator was totally biased against Principe and should not have discounted his whole testimony.

In the Matter of Peter Principe, Respondent, v New York City Department of Education, Appellant. 6289, 116031/09. SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT, 94 A.D.3d 431; 941 N.Y.S.2d 574; 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2490; 2012 NY Slip Op 2560 April 5, 2012, Decided.

In the Matter of Peter Principe, Respondent, v New York City Department of Education, Appellant. No. 240 SSM 41, COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK, 2012 N.Y. LEXIS 3632; 2012 NY Slip Op 8568, December 13, 2012, Decided

Will a Court Entertain a Discovery Request in a 3020-a Proceeding Before a Final Award is Made?

No. Many times when faced with a disciplinary hearing the parties require information from each other to prepare for the case. While the Education Law provides an affirmative obligation to provide such material the guidelines for the issuance of such a discovery order from an arbitrator are not clear.

In this case the School District sought some emails from a teacher. The arbitrator refused to order the teacher to turn them over so the District went to Supreme Court to seek redress.

Justice Donald A. Greenwood ruled that a court order in such a situation was improper since the statute only allowed the court to review final arbitration determinations.

It is important in such cases to make the application on the record to preserve any issue for appeal.

In the Matter of the Application of the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District and the Board of Education thereof, Petitioners, For an Order Pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR Vacating the Hearing Officer’s Decision, against Anonymous, a Tenured Administrator, Respondent. Sup. Ct., Onondaga County, October 16, 2012. Index No. 2012-3582.

Does a six-month suspension, without pay, coupled with DOE paid for classroom management classes warrant a 3020-a award be remanded?

No. Jane Lewinter, a tenured science teacher taught for three years at East Bronx Academy. During her first year she was rated satisfactory. During her second year she suffered from intestinal problems as was absent from work for 2 separate 5 week periods and underwent surgery.

Starting with her return from her first Lewinter’s principal began frequent classroom observations accompanied by a large number of letters to her file. She was given an unsatisfactory rating.

The third year she received numerous observations and at least 73 letters to her file. She was charged with 12 charges which dealt with various classroom management and teaching effectiveness allegations. The matter was brought before Arbitrator Stephen m Bluth who found that half of the charges were either not actionable against Lewinter or lacked sufficient evidence to support.

In fashioning an award Bluth rejected DOE’s dismissal request and suspended Lewinter for six months without pay. Additionally he ordered that the DOE pay for classroom management classes on behalf of Lewinter and required that she attend.

Lewinter appealed to the New York State Supreme Court, Justice Judith J. Gische. Justice Gische found Bluth’s decision and award to be “Solomon-like.” She found that Lewinter’s satisfactorily rated first year at East Bronx Academy irrelevant and that Bluth’s award did not shock the conscience. The award was upheld.

Jane LEWINTER, Petitioner for an Order pursuant to Article 75 of the Civil Practice Laws and Rules, v. NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondent., 36 Misc.3d 1213(A), 2012 WL 2877619 (N.Y.Sup.), 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 51264(U), No. 100029/11. Supreme Court, New York County, New York. July 11, 2012.

Is an allegation that the PIP+ program always leads to teacher termination sufficient for a judge to hear an appeal on the merits of a 3020-a hearing?

No. The PIP+ program, a creature of the UFT last collective bargaining agreement, provides allegedly incompetent teachers with a way to deal with these allegations. While designed to help teachers the program, as charged by Christopher Lobo, a twenty year tenured Earth Science teacher from Forest Hills High School, was a sham resulting in an almost certain termination recommendation.

PIP+, purportedly patterned after the union’s peer intervention program, provides for non-DOE evaluators to give assistance to allegedly incompetent teachers. A major difference between the union peer intervention program and PIP+ is that the PIP+ lacks confidentiality. All aspects of the allegedly incompetent teacher’s participation or lack thereof is admissible in a subsequent 3020-a hearing.

Lobo went through the PIP+ program but claimed it was rigged against him and asserted that no one had successfully completed the program. He also claimed that the DOE offered him no help and the observations that supported his U-ratings were flawed because they were completed by supervisors who were not familiar with his subject area.

Arbitrator Lawrence Henderson, in a 103 page decision, found that the observations were proper and he was provided support during the PIP+ period when “in addition [to] having access to staff development days, petitioner was provided with assistance before and after each of Principal Gootnick’s and A.P. Hoffman’s observations, and peer review by RMC Research Corporation, “a private vendor selected by the Department and the UFT” from April 2, 2009 to June 2, 2009. “

Upon appeal to State Supreme Court Justice Joan B. Lobis granted the City’s motion to dismiss finding that Lobo’s claims were insufficient to reverse Henderson’s termination finding.

Lobis wrote, “In light of Hearing Officer Henderson’s findings that petitioner was underperforming as an educator for two straight years, even after being offered resources to improve, petitioner cannot argue that the penalty of termination was unwarranted.”

CHRISTOPHER LOBO, Petitioner, -against- CITY OF NEW YORK; and NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; JOEL KLEIN, CHANCELLOR of NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents, Index No. 116548/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31902U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3426, July 7, 2011, Decided

Will a termination after a 3020-a hearing, based on a finding of probable cause by a principal, be sustained?

Yes. Malcolm Menchin, a tenured teacher at Performance Conservatory High School in the Bronx, was terminated, after a 3020-a hearing by arbitrator Patricia A. Cullen. On appeal Menchin did not argue the merits of Cullen’s decision but instead relied upon the argument that the probable cause determination was flawed since it was made by his principal and not the Chancellor. Menchin argued that the delegation of determining probable cause was improperly delegated to the principal thus rendering all proceedings made in furtherance thereof invalid.

Justice Linda S. Jamieson of Rockland Supreme Court took little time dismissing this argument. Jamieson found that Chancellor Joel I. Klein had authority to issue the August 16, 2007 Delegation of power to the principals of high schools in District 75 and 79. (Menchin’s school is in District 79). The Delegation states, in relevant part, that the Chancellor delegates to “each high school, District 75 and 79 principal the power to” “Initiate and resolve disciplinary charges against teaching and supervisory staff members in your school. . . .”

Jamieson further found that Section 2590-h(38) does not have a limiting provision and denied Menchin’s appeal.

Malcolm Menchin, Petitioner, for a Judgment under Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules against New York City Department of Education, Performance Conservatory High School, Respondents. 2250/2011, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, ROCKLAND COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 51344U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3520, July 13, 2011, Decided