Will the Court sustain a 3020-a award in which a teacher was terminated for maintaining an Albany address to avoid paying NYC income taxes?

Terri Patterson, a 10 veteran teacher at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn with an otherwise unblemished disciplinary record was found to have used an Albany address on DOE records and failed to file income taxes for three years as a New York City Resident. She immediately amended her taxes and paid the $1100 City income tax.

She was then served with charges in which the DOE sought her termination. Arbitrator Stuart Bauchner heard her explanation as to how she had an Albany address on file with the DOE. She claimed that after her “layoff” in 2003 (not clear how and why she was laid off) her address was inadvertently changed to Albany and she did not realize it until she was notified about it. The arbitrator did not buy Patterson’s explanation and terminated her. He found that she was not remorseful and used the DOE to defraud the government.

On appeal Supreme Court Justice Gische found that the standard to apply in 3020-a penalties was whether the penalty shocked the conscience. Justice Gische found that it did. Given Patterson’s ten year unblemished record, the lack of impact on her students and that remorse doesn’t make sense when you refile and correct an error the termination was vacated and sent back to the DOE for a determination not inconsistent with the Court’s decision.

Utilizing the shocks the conscience test might be beyond the power of the court since 3020-a determinations are reviewable only under those provisions of CPLR 7511 and not Article 78. No record of appeal could be found.
In the Matter of the Application of TERRI PATTERSON, Petitioner, For a judgment pursuant to Article 75 of the C.P.L.R. -against- CITY OF NEW YORK; NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; JOEL KLEIN, CHANCELLOR OF NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, Index No. 111175/2010, 2011 NY Slip Op 30870U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1520; 245 N.Y.L.J. 80, April 8, 2011

Does a felony conviction bar potential teachers from working for the Department of Education?

The Court of Appeals (our highest state court) has ruled that the DOE arbitrarily denied an applicant a security clearance to teach for a contracted employer. Madeline Acosta had applied for a position at Cooke Center for Learning and Development. She had been convicted of a 1st Degree Robbery, when she was 17, some 14 years before, and claimed to have been completely rehabilitated by earning a college degree and working as a paralegal.

Under the Correction and Executive Law it is unlawful for any public or private employer to deny any license or employment application “by reason of the individual’s having been previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses”

There are, however, two significant exceptions to this general prohibition. The first exception arises where “there is a direct relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the ┬áspecific license or employment sought or held by the individual” and the second exception allows for the adverse treatment of such applications where “the issuance or continuation of the license or the granting or continuation of the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public.”

It is the second exception that concerned the court.

There are eight factors that potential employers must weigh and while the court found that it would be improper for a court to re-weigh the factors it felt that the overriding public policy to encourage rehabilitation of convicted felons outweighed, in this instance, the concerns that the employer might have.

The court ruled that it was arbitrary for the DOE to deny the security clearance.

Acosta v. NYCDOE, 2011 NY Slip Op 2073; 16 N.Y.3d 309; 2011 N.Y. LEXIS 437; 31 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1840, March 24, 2011