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Cacavas ruled that the DOE had violated the act and ordered that the disciplinary letter and unsatisfactory rating be rescinded.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

Will a U-rating stand when one of three negative incidents is based on a finding determined to be arbitrary and capricous?

No. David Deutsch, a highly respected physics teacher at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics received a U-rating from his supervisor based on 3 separate incidents. Two of the incidents involved cursing and aggressive behavior and failure to follow a directive when asked to go to a department meeting. The incident involved an allegation that Deutsch failed to follow school protocol for notice in requesting a personal day off.

While the Chancellor’s representative, Shael Polakow-Suransky, affirmed the principal’s U-rating he wrote that Deutsch has failed to show professional growth.

Deutsch appealed. Justice Michael D. Stillman found that the first two incidents were valid but that the third incident must be dismissed because it was arbitrary and capricious that Deutsch was to follow a protocol in requesting a personal day when, in fact, such policy was not shown to exist. Additionally when Polakow-Suansky affirmed the U-rating there was nothing in the record to demonstrate any opportunity for Deutsch to show professional growth nor were any opportunities offered. The U-rating was annulled.

Deutsch v. NYCDOE (11/7/13)

Will a U-rating be upheld if the reviewing administrator violates a non-substantial right of a teacher when rating the teacher?

Yes. Mitchel Cohn is a tenured  teacher at Williamsburg Middle School Academy (MS 50K). In June 2006 he received a  U-rating. He received another U-rating in June 2007. The second U-rating was based, according to his rating sheet, on 5 informal observations taken place in March and May of 2007. Cohn appealed the rating and despite his argument that he was never given pre or post observation conferences required by the UFT contract his appeal was denied.

Cohn also argued that the failure to provide formal observations, since he was a previously designated U-rated teacher, required formal observations and these rights were outlined in the DOE’s rating manual and Special Circular 45.

On appeal to State Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger held that only “substantial rights” violations would cause the Court to overrule the Chancellor’s final determination of a U-rating. While Justice Schlesinger noted that an Appellate Court had held that “the standard of review in such cases required reversal of an agency’s decision when the relevant agency does not comply with either a mandatory provision or one thas was :intended to be strictly enforced.”  Blaize v Klein, 68 AD3d 759, 761, 889 N.Y.S.2d 665 (2nd Dept., 2009).

So what constitutes a substantial right? Schlesinger held that “The review process that petitioner claims was violated is not found in a statute or regulation, but rather in the CBA and various handbooks. The document where the review process first appears is entitled “Guidelines” and reads as such. Further, that the pre-observation aspect of the Formal Observation model is described slightly differently in the various documents further reinforces the fact that the APPR is intended to act as a set of somewhat flexible guidelines rather than as a directive that must be strictly enforced and that guarantees a substantial right.”

To show a pre-observation conference was a mandatory provision Cohn would have had to show how those conferences deprived him of substantial rights, which the Court found he had not.

In the Matter of the Application of Mitchell Cohn, Petitioner, against Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York; and JOEL I. KLEIN as Chancellor of the City School District of the City of New York, Respondents. 110409/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 51070U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2829, June 7, 2011, Decided

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