Less than 30-days notice of termination of a probationary educator does not always result in the payment back salary

Less than 30-days notice of termination of a probationary educator does not always result in the payment back salary
Vetter v Board of Educ., Ravena- Coeymans-Selkirk Cent. School Dist., 53 AD3d 847

A probationary teacher of physical education and health education employed by Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District. During the school year, several students made written complaints that the teacher had walked through the middle school girls' locker room while females were changing their clothes. Placed on administrative leave while an investigation was conducted, the teacher was told by the Superintendent that she planned to recommend his termination at the June 19, 2006 Board meeting .The decision notes that although the Board terminated the teacher’s employment on June 21, 2006 effective July 21, 2006, it did not notify him of that fact in writing until a letter dated July 19, 2006 was sent to him.

The teacher sued, seeking a name-clearing hearing pursuant to US Constitution 14th Amendment and 42 USC §1983, payment of 30 days salary in accordance with Education Law §3019-a and an award of counsel fees pursuant to 42 USC §1988. Without conceding that the probationer was entitled to a name-clearing hearing, the district agreed to provide him with one. Supreme Court awarded the teacher counsel fees related to his attempt to secure the name-clearing hearing, but denied his request for 30 days salary. Both parties appealed those portions of the Supreme Court’s ruling respectively viewed as adverse to them.

Regarding the teacher’s demand for salary payment, the Appellate Division said that a school district terminating a probationary teacher that fails to provide the 30-days notice required by Education Law §3019-a, must provide "one day's pay for each day the notice was late." Although it is uncontroverted that the teacher was only given two days notice of his termination - 28 days less than the required 30 days notice – the court agreed with the district that because “the time during which salary would be paid on account of the late notice fell during the summer vacation a time” when the teacher did not work and, therefore, would not otherwise have been paid, he was not entitled to receive any pay based upon the district's failure to provide the requisite notice.

The court noted that there is no evidence that the probationary teacher would have been entitled to any pay during the period in question if he had not been terminated. Thus, under these circumstances, the payment of salary to him would, in effect, provide a windfall to him and would not serve the purposes for which such payment was intended.

As to Supreme Court’s awarding the teacher attorney fees, the Appellate Division said such fees were erroneously awarded to him. The United States Supreme Court has clearly held that a voluntary resolution of a matter "lacks the necessary judicial imprimatur" to warrant "an award of attorney's fees." In this instance the district decided to give the probationer the “name-clearing hearing” he demanded. As the hearing was the result of the voluntary actions of school district, which was not enforced by a consent decree or judgment of Supreme Court, the Appellate Division ruled that the award of counsel fees was improper.

NYPPL Comments: A name clearing hearing, however, serves only one purpose - to clear the accused individual's good name and reputation. It does not result in the individual obtaining any right to reemployment. This means that having been provided with a hearing and having cleared his name is, at best, all the relief an individual can expect. Prevailing at a name-clearing hearing does not require the individual to be reemployed by his or her former employer.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: