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May 20, 2013

An appointing authority’s threatening to take adverse personnel action against an employee that it has a legal right to undertake does not constitute duress


An appointing authority’s threatening to take adverse personnel action against an employee that it has a legal right to undertake does not constitute duress 
2013 NY Slip Op 03252, Appellate Division, Fourth Department


Supreme Court determined that the resignation of a tenured teacher [Educator] formerly employed by the school district, "was involuntarily submitted as a result of fraud, coercion and duress" and directed Educator’s reinstatement with back pay and benefits.”

The school district appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s decision, indicating that further consideration and evaluation of Educator’s allegations of duress by the Supreme Court was required.

Citing Gould v Board of Educ. of Sewanhaka Cent. High Sch. Dist., 81 NY2d 446, the Appellate Division said that as a general rule "A resignation under coercion or duress is not a voluntary act and may be nullified."

In contrast, the Appellate Division, citing Rychlick v Coughlin, 99 AD2d 863, affd. 63 NY2d 643, explained that "it has consistently been held that a threat to do that which one has the legal right to do does not constitute duress."

Stated in the alternative, as the Court of Appeals held in Abramovich v Board of Educ. of Cent. Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Brookhaven & Smithtown, 46 NY2d 450, motion to reargue denied 46 NY2d 1076, cert denied 444 US 845, "[a] person's resignation may not be considered to be obtained under duress unless the employer threatened to take action which it had no right to take.”

Further, said the Appellate Division, under "appropriate circumstances . . . a tenured teacher may, as part of a stipulation in settlement of a disciplinary proceeding brought against him [or her], waive his or her continued right to the protections afforded by §3020-a of the Education Law" provided that such a settlement is “voluntarily and knowingly made” in contrast to having been made "lightly, inadvertently, inadvisedly or improvidently….”

The Appellate Division ruled that under the circumstances Supreme Court should conducted a trial "to resolve the factual issue raised by the pleadings and affidavits concerning [Educator’s] allegations of duress and to make appropriate findings of fact before proceeding any further" and remanded the case to Supreme Court for that purpose.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_03252.htm

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