Terminated teacher is reinstated with back salary because school district failed to satisfy the procedural requirements of Education Law §3020-a

Terminated teacher is reinstated with back salary because school district failed to satisfy the procedural requirements of Education Law §3020-a
Robert Pollock v Kiryas Joel Union Free School Dist., 52 AD3d 722

The Kiryas Joel Union Free School District and the Board of Education of the Kiryas Joel Union Free School District terminated a teacher from his position as a tenured teacher with the district. 

The teacher sued and Supreme Court annulled the district’s action and directed that the teacher be reinstated to his position retroactive to the date of his termination "with an award of back pay, interest, and such other and further benefits as would have accrued to him but for his unlawful termination of employment." The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The court pointed out that a tenured teacher was entitled to the procedural protections set forth in Education Law §3020-a.

The Appellate Division summarized the procedural elements as follows: Prior to any disciplinary action being taken against a teacher, all charges must be submitted in writing and filed with the clerk or secretary of the school district (Education Law § 3020-a[1]); then the employing board of education, in executive session, must vote as to whether there is probable cause for the charges (Education Law § 3020-a[2]); and if the board of education's determination is affirmative, a written statement specifying the charges in detail and outlining the employee's rights, including his right to a hearing, shall be immediately forwarded to that employee (Education Law § 3020-a[2]).

In contrast, the court noted that a tenured teacher may enter into a settlement providing for his or her voluntary resignation and forfeiture of protections pursuant to Education Law §3020-a only if that settlement is shown to have been voluntary and noncoerced.

Here, however, the Appellate Division said that “the evidence did not establish that the [the teacher’s] purported waiver of his rights under Education Law § 3020-a was voluntary and noncoerced.”

As the Kiryas Joel did not prefer charges or hold a hearing pursuant to Education Law § 3020-a, the Supreme Court properly determined that the appellants' actions were undertaken in violation of lawful procedure and was correct in granting the teacher’s petition and annulling Kiryas Joel’s terminating his employment.

The Appellate Division then remitted the matter to Supreme Court for the purpose of determining the amount due the teacher but also said that the “award shall include an offset for the amount of [the teacher’s] earnings from other employment since his termination by the appellants and for the amount of unemployment benefits received by the petitioner during that period.”

NYPPL Comment:On the issue of coercion in connection with an appointing authority’s threatening disciplinary action if the employee does not resign from his or her position, the Court of Appeals has held that threatening to do what the appointing authority had a right to do -- i.e., file disciplinary charges -- did not constitute coercion so as to make the resignation involuntary [Rychlick v Coughlin, 63 NY2d 643].

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