January 15, 2021

Challenging administrative decisions made by educational institutions

The petitioner [Plaintiff] in CPLR Article 78 proceeding has been employed by the New York City Department of Education [DOE] as a teacher of library or as a librarian for over 20 years. Plaintiff 's performance was reviewed by her Supervising Principal at the conclusion of the relevant school year,. The Supervising Principal rated the Plaintiff's overall performance as unsatisfactory. 

Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal challenging her unsatisfactory performance rating. DOE's Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning denied Plaintiff's appeal and sustained the Supervising Principal's rating of unsatisfactory.

Plaintiff initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the Deputy Chancellor's determination and Supreme Court, after a hearing, determined that the Deputy Chancellor's determination was arbitrary and capricious and that the rating of unsatisfactory was not rational. 

Supreme Court then granted Plaintiff's Article 78 petition, annulled the determination of the Deputy Chancellor and substituted a determination rating the Petitioner's performance as satisfactory. DOE appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court, denied Plaintiff's petition and confirmed the Deputy Chancellor's determination, explaining:

1. "Administrative decisions of educational institutions involve the exercise of highly specialized professional judgment and these institutions are, for the most part, better suited to make relatively final decisions concerning wholly internal matters"; and

2. Court should not overturn an employer's rating of an employee as unsatisfactory unless it is arbitrary and capricious, made in bad faith, or contrary to the law.

Observing the Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Supervising Principal's rating her unsatisfactory was arbitrary or capricious. Rather, said the Appellate Division, the evidence in the record "demonstrated that the rating of unsatisfactory was based on incidents of misconduct, unprofessionalism in interacting with other teachers, and insubordination."

Concluding that the Deputy Chancellor's determination was rational, the Appellate Division held that the lower court "should not have supplanted the judgment of the DOE with its own" and vacated the Supreme Court's decision.

The Appellate Division's decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_07384.htm.


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