February 10, 2021

An employer may take an adverse employment action against an employee barred by law so long the employer has demonstrated an independent basis for the action

A probationary teacher [Plaintiff] observed a teacher providing unauthorized assistance to a student. Plaintiff contended that she immediately reported the incident, and it is undisputed that she "first put her allegations in writing in a letter dated April 19, 2013."

Plaintiff subsequently received four unsatisfactory lesson observation reports, two letters of misconduct and then received an unsatisfactory rating (U-rating) for the school year. The New York City Department of Education [DOE] did not give Plaintiff a certificate of satisfactory completion of probation and terminated her employment. Her administrative appeal was denied by a divided panel.

Plaintiff initiate a hybrid CPLR Article 78/plenary action challenging DOE's decision in Supreme Court. Ultimately the Appellate Division dismissed Plaintiff's action in its entirety "on the law."

The Appellate Division explained that DOE's decision to discontinue Plaintiff's probation and terminate her employment was based on the annual U-rating, which in turn was based on four unsatisfactory observation reports and two misconduct letters. These, said the court, provide ample evidence to support the conclusion that Plaintiff's performance was unsatisfactory, and thereby establish, for purposes of reviewing Plaintiff's Article 78 action, that Plaintiff's termination was done in good faith.

Turning to Plaintiff's seeking a court order annulling the U-rating and unsatisfactory observation reports as pretexts for a retaliatory discharge, the Appellate Division opined that this effort was unavailing as the U-rating was supported by the observation reports and misconduct letters, each of which recited first-hand observations made by the Assistant Principal and Principal and the unsatisfactory reports were "rationally based in the record."

Addressing Plaintiff's second cause of action under Civil Service Law, §75-b the Appellate Division found that Plaintiff had made a prima facie case by showing that:

1. She received numerous adverse employment actions in the form of unsatisfactory reports and ultimately loss of license and termination;

2. She disclosed what appeared to be an illegal action by a fellow teacher; and

3. The temporal connection between Plaintiff's reporting "the January 23, 2013 incident  and the negative employment actions she suffered beginning in early March, suffices to establish her prima facie case on causation."

That said, the Appellate Division pointed out that an appointing authority may nonetheless initiate an adverse employment action against an employee so long the employer has an "independent basis for the action."

In the words of the Appellate Division, "Here, as discussed, [DOE] had ample independent bases for their actions against [Plaintiff], in the form of the well-documented unsatisfactory reports and a corresponding U-rating for the year. Nor is there any evidence that [DOE's] actions were pretexts for retaliation, or that [DOE] would not have taken the same actions against [Plaintiff] had she not reported the alleged teacher misconduct" and dismissed Plaintiff's second cause of action alleging the DOE had violated Civil Service Law §75-b.

Click HEREto access the text of the Appellate Division's decision. 

 

 

CAUTION

Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.
THE MATERIAL ON THIS WEBSITE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. AGAIN, CHANGES IN LAWS, RULES, REGULATIONS AND NEW COURT AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS MAY AFFECT THE ACCURACY OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS LAWBLOG. THE MATERIAL PRESENTED IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE AND THE USE OF ANY MATERIAL POSTED ON THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.
Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material in this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor members of the staff are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to seek such advice from a competent professional.