New York teachers’ rights attorneys know that having tenure alone does not always guarantee that jobs in education are yours for life. At times administrators try to manipulate circumstances in any way possible to reach their goal of terminating an employee. Perhaps they are looking to save money by hiring someone with less experience or simply do not like a particular teacher. Tenure rules, anti-discrimination laws and contract terms support the ability of educators to enforce their hard-earned rights to due process and equal treatment and to seek recourse for violations of such rights.
Tenure rules have been in existence for over 100 years and were enacted to protect educators from arbitrary and unlawful firing. Tenure provides a teacher with the opportunity for a hearing and requires evidence of “just cause” to terminate someone’s position.
Having tenure means that you have earned the right to your job and that no one can terminate or negatively affect that job without proper due process. A school board may not fire a teacher with tenure because a child does not like her or she gives too much homework. A school may not fire a tenured teacher because his political beliefs or personal activities are different from those of the administration. A school district may not fire a teacher for a discriminatory reason either – there must always be “just cause.” Just cause may include incompetence, inefficient teaching or some other serious problem.
Teachers, like many employees, have recourse when someone violates their rights. They can file discrimination complaints with administrative agencies, civil suits for wrongful termination, contract violations, and discrimination lawsuits.
Consider a recent situation that has stirred controversy in a Queens, New York school. In July 2016, The Daily News reported that David Possner, assistant principal at Junior High School 226, accused the school principal of retaliating against him for whistleblowing.
Possner told The Daily News that after receiving 17 consecutive years of satisfactory job performance evaluations, principal Rushell White gave him an unsatisfactory rating in 2015. This performance review, Possner alleges, was an attempt to remove him from his job to make room for new hires. Recently, he received his second unsatisfactory rating which is necessary to begin termination proceedings.
While White states that the poor rating properly reflects Possner’s failure to meet four professional goals, Possner claims that the rating was in direct retaliation for his role in speaking to the media and others about a mural White commissioned for the school. The controversial painting depicts her as a Hindu goddess with six arms alongside other adults. It depicts Mr. Possner as a tiny man off to the side.
The mural outraged parents in the school’s community, about a third of which are Hindu. Just a few days after it was put up, the painting was taken down. The city is investigating the matter. Possner is seeking a transfer to a different school.
Possner filed a lawsuit in 2015 claiming that his colleagues at the school made anti-Semitic remarks about him and that White “tormented” him. According to the NY Post, when Possner reported the harassment to White she allegedly stated: “maybe you are a bad Jew.” Of his depiction in the mural, Possner told the Daily News “It was very hurtful. Clearly, this is in retaliation for my suit.”
Rushell White’s name is at the center of another legal complaint filed July 7 on behalf of former City teacher Mary Harris, 57. Harris is suing the city for unspecified damages over her alleged treatment by White. Harris, who retired in June, alleges that White began a “war” with her after Harris complained that White did not adequately staff her classroom in 2011.
Since that time, Harris claims that White bullied and harassed her in an attempt to remove her and make room for younger teachers. Harris claims that she received the first ineffective rating of her almost 30-year career in 2013 and that White based this rating on “bogus” classroom observations. Harris is suing for monetary damages to cover emotional distress and health problems she experienced because of White.
If you have any questions about your rights under teacher tenure laws or anti-discrimination statutes, contact NY teachers’ rights lawyers at Leeds Brown at 1-800-585-4658. We are experts at holding administrators and school districts accountable when they violate due process and other valuable rights of educators.