Can a U-rating be reversed when a teacher is disciplined for protected activity?

Yes. The Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act codifies public employee labor relations in New York State. The statutory framework provides for a Board to oversee the public employee labor relations and has certain powers to protect public employees engaged in Union activity termed protected activity.

Rodriguez taught at P.S. 173 and for 32 years “had an unblemished record.” He was also the Chapter Leader at the school and had never filed a grievance on his behalf. In April 2010 he submitted a preference sheet and was not assigned his preference. He filed a grievance.

Rodriguez alleged that, as a result of his grievance, he was subjected to an excessive number of classroom visits and observations including 58 unannounced “pop-in” visits. After the filing of a second grievance regarding lesson plans Rodriguez was subjected to still further scrutiny.

Additional animus was evident from the filing of a disciplinary letter to Rodriguez file and rating him with a U-rating.

Rodriguez appealed to PERB where he demonstrated the anti-union activity bias. AlJ Elena Cacavas ruled that the DOE had violated the act and ordered that the disciplinary letter and unsatisfactory rating be rescinded.

Rodriguez v. DOE

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

Can the DOE withhold legal representation in a civil suit brought against a teacher while a disciplinary proceeding is pending?

Yes. While fortunately not a frequent occurrence, our students and others do sue teachers and other school staff members for injuries allegedly caused by school staff during the course of their employment. General Municipal Law Section 50-k and Education Law 3028 provide that city employees have the right to have the Corporation Counsel represent them and the city pick up any resulting judgment if the employee was acting within the “scope of his employment.”

The critical issue is what was in this “scope” as an employee, for example committing a criminal assault on student would not be covered under this law.

Kevin Martin is a tenured teacher and was assigned to Aspire Preparatory School, MS 322X. While teaching Martin tried to stop a student from disrupting the class. After each request by Martin to the student to stop disrupting the class the student verbally responded with profanity. Martin told the student to go the dean.

According to Martin’s petition, “As a disciplinary measure and the course and scope of Martin’s employment, Martin then removed the aforementioned student chair from beneath the feat of student S[…], whereupon Martin lost control of the chair which fell to the floor at student S[…]’s feet.”

The student and his mother started a civil suit against Martin and Martin requested legal representation which was denied due, in part to an OSI report which found Martin had thrown the chair.

Justice Alice Schlesinger of New York Supreme Court had no problem finding that Martin’s action was within the scope of his employment as disciplinary actions against students are clearly envisioned in the statute. The Court nonetheless after determining that the timeline was suspect (the incident occurred in 2008, the civil suit filed in 2009 and the OSI investigation and charges against Martin were done in 2010) found that there was nothing arbitrary or capricious in the denial of legal representation during the course of the disciplinary proceedings. The Court advised that Martin could commence his own civil action for attorney fees and resulting judgment in the future, if the facts warrant.

In the Matter of KEVIN MARTIN, Petitioner, -against- BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, JOEL J. KLEIN, as Chancellor of the City School District of the City of New York, and the CITY OF NEW York, Respondents, For a Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 30983U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1795, April 12, 2011

Will a “u”-rating be upheld when the rated teacher claims that her rating was based on retaliation for her grievance about an OEO finding against her?

Yes. In 1991 Tracey Elcock began working for the DOE as a para and was appointed as a special education teacher in 2001. From her appointment until an allegation about her uttering a racial slur and reported by a guidance counselor she received satisfactory ratings.

After an investigation the OEO found that Elcock had violated the Chancellor’s Regulations and recommended that a letter be placed in her personnel file.

Elcock grieved the letter and at the end of the school year received a “u”-rating. She claimed that her rating was in retaliation for her grievance.

The DOE argued that the rating was based on attendance and on a incident in which she allegedly belittled her special education students.

Justice Joan Lobis found that Elcock had not met her burden of demonstrating that the principal’s action was either arbitrary or capricious despite the fact that only two students complained about her alleged statements and that their statements were inconsistent. Justice Lobis observed that it was not the Court’s function to determine credibility.

In the Matter of an Article 78 Proceeding TRACEY ELCOCK, Petitioner, -against- JOEL KLEIN, as the Chancellor of the Department of Education of the City of New York, CITY OF NEW YON, and NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents. Index No., SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 30537U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 950, February 18, 2011