September 08, 2010

Court vacates hearing officer’s disciplinary determination after finding that it was arbitrary and capricious

Court vacates hearing officer’s disciplinary determination after finding that it was arbitrary and capricious
Trupiano v Meadow Union Free School Dist., 2010 NY Slip Op 32264(U), August 10, 2010, Supreme Court, Nassau County, Judge: Michele M. Woodard [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

From September 2004 through March 2007, the East Meadow UFSD teachers engaged in numerous activities to protest the fact that they did not have a successor collective bargaining agreement in place,* including picketing the School District's school buildings.

East Meadow, pursuant to Education Law §3020-a, preferred disciplinary charges on one of its teachers, Gina Trupiano, alleging that Trupiano “intentionally created a health and safety risk by purposefully situating her vehicle alongside the curb … in order to preclude children from being dropped off at curbside. The action resulted in children being dropped off in the middle of the street which resulted in an otherwise avoidable and unnecessary health and safety hazard.”

Hearing Officer Howard C. Edelman found that although Trupiano “did not knowingly and purposely park her vehicle alongside the curb … he concluded that by doing so, Trupiano "created a safety hazard to children” and sustained the charge. The penalty imposed: Trupiano received a counseling memo as the penalty.

Judge Woodward vacated the hearing officer’s award, finding that, in this instance, the Hearing Officer s decision that Trupiano is culpable of the charge preferred against her is not "amply supported by the evidence."

In the words of the court, “While the Hearing Officer s decision is indeed thoughtful, the irony is that the Hearing Officer therein repeatedly acknowledges that Trupiano broke no laws on March 2, 2007, was engaged in a constitutionally protected form of free speech and that she "obviously... did not wish harm to any child."

Accordingly, the court ruled that the disciplinary determination was "arbitrary or capricious."

* The terms and conditions addressing mandatory subjects of collective bargaining set out in the expired collective bargaining agreement are continued in effect pending the successor agreement in accordance with PERB’s so-called “Triborough Doctrine” promulgated in 1972.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2010/2010_32264.pdf

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