Are teachers who park their cars in legal spots near their school as part of informational picketing and thereby cause students to be dropped off in the street engaged in protected 1st Amendment activity?

No. We have visited this case last year when the Appellate Division reversed the ruling of the Supreme Court in a case coming from the East Meadow school district. As you may recall members of the East Meadow Teachers Association decided to form an informational picket line by parking their cars in legal spots near Woodland Middle School in such a way that pedestrians could only pass to the school’s sidewalk through curb cuts. The parking area was not restricted but had been customarily used as a drop-off area for parents bringing their children to school. The protest caused traffic congestion and students were dropped off by their parents in the middle of the street.

Writing for the majority of the Court of Appeals Judge Abdus-Salaam found that while the teachers’ First Amendment rights were implicated, safety concerns for the students outweighed these rights and permitted the arbitrators to discipline the teachers pursuant to 3020-a.

A strong dissent, written by Judge Rivera, argued that the majority engaged in improper fact finding an improperly weighed the alleged disruption and safety concerns.

In the Matter of Richard Santer, Respondent, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, Appellant. In the Matter of Barbara Lucia, Respondent, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, Appellant, No. 51, No. 52, COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK, 2014 N.Y. LEXIS 997; 2014 NY Slip Op 3189; 199, L.R.R.M. 3291, May 6, 2014

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.

Is the UFT required to submit contract changes or a proposed contract to the membership for ratification?

No. With the recent announcement that the UFT has agreed with the mayor to give-back ATR rights and study sabbaticals the issue is raised as to whether this “agreement” must be sent to the membership or even the Delegate Assembly for ratification. It is long been known in New York public sector legal circles that ratification votes, unless called for in a union’s constitution or by-laws, are not legally required by New York State Labor Law.

In 1973 Julius Ward, a non-member of the bargaining unit, petitioned the Court to invalidate a ratification vote of his unit for a new contract between Nassau County and the CSEA. The Court went through the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act (the Taylor Law) to determine if there were any provision requiring votes of all members of a bargaining unit.

The Court determined that not only were there no requirements that non-union members vote in ratification votes but there was no requirement to hold a ratification vote at all.

So, why does the UFT conduct any ratification vote at all if it is not required by law?

It is clear that the UFT, as all public sector unions, is very politically sensitive. The ratification vote on full contracts has become common practice even if it isn’t required. However, this does not prevent the whittling away of teacher rights, without ratification votes, in the interim.

N.B. Civil Service Law 204-a provides that where an agreement is submitted to the membership a notice (reading out loud at a meeting and printing on any proposed agreement) must be provided that the agreement which requires additional funding will not be effective until a legislative body a provided for the funds.

In the Matter of Julius Wald, Petitioner, v. Nassau Chapter Civil Service Employees Assn., Inc., et al., Respondents, Supreme Court of New York, Special Term, Nassau County, 72 Misc. 2d 723; 340 N.Y.S.2d 451; 1973 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2235; 82 L.R.R.M. 2972, February 9, 1973

Can a probationary teaching assistant utilize the state whistleblower law to defeat a school district’s motion to dismiss her petition for reinstatement?

Yes. Civil Service Law Section 75-b, the public sector component of the state’s whistleblower law, protects public employees from termination if they report a violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety or which the employee reasonably believes to be true and reasonably believes constitutes an improper governmental action. The provision applies to tenured employees only in so far as it may be raised as a defense in a disciplinary arbitration (where a contract calls for that) and applies to probationers if they seek reinstatement from court.

Maureen Sheil began her probation as a teaching assistant in the Merrick Union Free School District in 2009. One of her colleagues was removed from her school after he was charged with possession of child pornography. Sheil became concerned that another of her colleagues, who still kept ties with the removed teaching assistant, supported the removed teaching assistant in such a way that she believed he presented a danger to students at her school. Sheil reported her concerns to the school’s administration only to be later targeted for what Sheil charged was retaliation for her complaint. Sheil was eventually dismissed by the school district.

Sheil raised Civil Service Law Section 75-b to claim that the dismissal was taken in retaliation for her reporting the association of her colleague with the removed teaching assistant.

Justice Denise Sher of Nassau Supreme Court found that Sheil had made a a viable claim and ordered the school district to answer her petition.

In the Matter of the Application of MAUREEN SHEIL, Petitioner, for a Judgment pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Laws and Rules, – against – DR. RANIER W. MELUCCI, Superintendent of Schools, Merrick Union Free School District, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MERRICK UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, and MERRICK UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondents, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NASSAU COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31242U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2208, April 28, 2011