Can a teacher, fined after hearing for $7500, maintain a proceeding to show that the behavior complained of has no bearing on his being a teacher?

Yes. Edgar Ortiz, a tenured teacher, was fined $7500 after arbitrator, Joshua M. Javits, found two specifications against him for his failure to notify the DOE about his arrest for solicitation of a prostitute and for committing the offense. Ortiz had been arrested for “paying another person money and/or compensation in exchange for a sexual act.”  He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the criminal case.

Ortiz claimed that the fine shocked the conscience and that the arrest took place on a Sunday morning near no school and thus lacked the connectedness to his role as a teacher to be disciplined.

The DOE moved to dismiss Ortiz’s petition and Justice Carol E. Huff of the New York Supreme Court denied their request and ordered the DOE to answer Ortiz’s petition. Huff found that Ortiz has established a claim that the arbitrator’s ruling in connection with the facts of the arrest lacked a rational basis in law and was arbitrary and capricious.

Ortiz v. DOE (Sup.Ct., NY) January 6, 2014

Will a teacher who maintains that her probationary period begins upon her appointment and not the date she receives her professional license prevail?

Yes. Carolina Castro began her appointment to teach science at DeWitt Clinton High School on September 3, 2003. From 2003 until 2009 she received satisfactory reviews and obtained her professional certification on September 1, 2009.

The DOE maintained that her probation began in 2009 and she received tenure effective September 1, 2013. Castro maintained that her seniority rights would be affected if the later date was used for her tenure date and she filed an Article 78 in Supreme Court.

The DOE moved to dismiss as the issue was moot since she had obtained tenure.

Justice Eileen A. Rakower granted the petition finding that the DOE action had no rational basis. Rakower did not deal with the mootness issue even though it does not appear that tenure is in any way affected by seniority.

Castro v. DOE (Decided 9/11/13)

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

Must the DOE return a vindicated teacher to her original school after all disciplinary charges were dismissed?

Yes. Judith Merenstein, a tenured elementary school teacher for almost 20 years was served with charges that included a U-rated observation by the LIS. The arbitrator who heard the case found the LIS and others not credible and part of a campaign to discredit and terminate Merenstein. All charges were dismissed.

Subscribing to the theory that no good deed goes unpunished the DOE reinstated her to a different school. She promptly filed a proceeding in Court claiming that the State Education Law provided that she was to return to her original school and limited the power of the DOE to reassign her. The DOE moved to dismiss Merenstein’s petition and Justice Lucy Billings denied the motion and ordered the DOE to respond to her petition.

Billings found that the DOE had the right to reassign Merenstein to a different workplace (the rubber room) while charges were pending but State Law was clear that she had to be reinstated to the same school if charges were dismissed.

Observation: The decision does not deal with the impact of the CBA and exhaustion of the grievance procedure.

In the Matter of the Application of JUDITH MERENSTEIN, Petitioner, For a Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules – against – BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, and DENNIS M. WALCOTT, in his official capacity as CHANCELLOR of the CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Respondents, Index No. 111208/2011, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5468; 2012 NY Slip Op 32844U October 18, 2012, Decided. November 13, 2012, Filed.

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