Sunday, December 28, 2008
UFT wins major letter-in-file dispute
UFT wins major letter-in-file dispute
May 23, 2008 2:23 PM
The UFT won a major victory on May 22 when the New York City Department of Education removed disciplinary letters from the personnel files of four teachers at Public School 345 in Brooklyn who were cited for allegedly not reporting a colleague accused of misconduct involving students even though they all willingly spoke with school system investigators working the case.
Teachers – Evelyn Carrillo, Darlene Jones-Hardwick, Joyce Sticco and Daphna Gutman – had asked the union to clear their names because they had cooperated with investigators from the office of School Commissioner for Investigations Richard Condon reviewing allegations involving a colleague, Gregory Michaelides, but still got letters placed in their personnel records. Such letters could unfairly stigmatize the educators and hamper their efforts to transfer to other schools or work in other school systems if they ever sought to do so.
The UFT went to court and sued the DOE for disciplining the teachers without affording them a hearing to refute the charges as required by state law. In separate cases, all the judges ruled that because the letters were disciplinary in nature the DOE had to remove them from the files because it had not gone through the proper procedures.
“This was a real abuse of process where teachers were given disciplinary letters without ever having an opportunity to challenge them,” UFT President Randi Weingarten said. “It was as if the DOE was judge, jury and prosecutor. If the teachers had been given a chance to present the facts it would have been clear that they assisted and did not impede the investigation.”
The DOE later withdrew appeals it had filed and agreed to remove the letters, but the agency nevertheless delayed removing the letters until May 22 when the New York City Corporation Counsel and the school principal confirmed that the letters were being removed.
Case Docket Numbers:
Sticco v. The Bd. of Educ. of the City School District of the City of N.Y., Index No. 105477/2007
Jones-Hardwick v. The Bd. of Educ. of the City School District of the City of N.Y., Index No. 105475/2007
Gutman v. The Bd. of Educ. of the City School District of the City of N.Y., Index No. 105474/2007
Carrillo v. The Bd. of Educ. of the City School District of the City of N.Y., Index No. 105476/2007
Special Commissioner's Report November 28, 2006
See our previous article about this win:
UFT Wins Letter-In-The-File Suits
Randi Weingarten Honors Whistleblower Josh Gutterman and Evelyn Carillo, Darlene Jones-Hardwick, Joyce Sticco and Daphna Gutman:
Honored for fighting back when necessary
by Ellie Spielberg, Mar 13, 2008
Work together when we can, fight when we must, was clearly the theme throughout the Delegate Assembly on March 5. In alerting delegates to situations where members have gotten real redress, UFT President Randi Weingarten said, in introducing whistle-blower Josh Gutterman, a teacher at IS 78 in Brooklyn, “This is a man who was tortured, emotionally and verbally.”
What had he done? “Reported something as a chapter leader, like you do,” Weingarten explained.
Delegates were apalled on learning that the 17-year chapter leader and exemplary veteran teacher had been harassed for three years — all for doing the right thing.
In September 2005, Gutterman was approached by distressed colleagues who were shaken because of what they called an AP’s illegal conduct during a class trip the previous June. He brought the allegations to the principal, believing that a chapter leader’s duty is to go beyond filing grievances and if a member comes to a chapter leader with something important, the chapter leader’s responsibility is to report it. Soon after, the 35-year teacher with an excellent record began getting letters in his file, verbal abuse, unsatisfactory observations, was slapped with a U-rating and had his retention rights taken way for summer school and per-session jobs.
Gutterman refused to let the administration get away with it and enlisted his union for help. NYSUT, the union’s statewide affiliate, filed a whistle-blower claim in October 2006 on his behalf. It also filed a Section-1983 claim against the city for abuse of governmental power.
The Department of Education took the case to federal court for a fight that lasted well over a year. Witnesses testified that most of the harassment against Gutterman originated from the AP the staff had complained about.
The case was settled on Feb. 1 with Gutterman receiving backpay for all of his losses in summer pay and some of his per-session work. All the letters, unsatisfactory observations and the U-rating were removed from his file. In reaching the settlement, however, the DOE did not admit any fault or liability.
In addition to being a veteran teacher, Gutterman is a longtime unionist who marched with the UFT’s legendary leader Al Shanker during the union’s landmark battles.
He told the delegates: “The AP would say to me, ‘Resign as a chapter leader, and you’ll get an S-rating.’ I told her no; that you can hurt me financially, emotionally, even physically — but you can’t take away from me what unionism is about.” Gutterman received a roar of approval from the assembly.
He thanked Weingarten, NYSUT attorney Ann Burdick and Brooklyn District 22 Representative Fred Gross for all their help.
Delegates also lauded four other teachers who stood up to injustice: Chapter Leader Adele Chavarria, from Brooklyn’s PS 345, and her colleagues Darlene Jones-Hardwick, Joyce Sticco and Daphna Gutman.
All got letters in their file for not reporting a teacher accused of misconduct involving students when, in fact, all willingly spoke with investigators from the office of School Commissioner for Investigations Richard Condon. Outraged, they asked the UFT to try to clear their names. The union went to court and sued the DOE for disciplining the teachers without going through the 3020-a process.
In three separate cases, all the judges ruled that the DOE had to remove the letters from the files. Because they were purely disciplinary in nature, the judges ruled that they could not be placed in the teachers’ files without following 3020-a procedures.
Weingarten (at right) lauded the teachers for their determination to fight back. “You know, a lot of people say, ‘I’m not going to take it on, I’m not going to take it on,’” she said. “And then agita — it eats away at their stomachs every day on the job. But these people fought back — and won,” Weingarten said, joining the delegates in thunderous applause for the four teachers.
Gutman thanked Brooklyn District 19 Representative Allan Weinstein and said she and her colleagues “see this not as an end but a beginning, of letting other teachers know that they can fight instead of just taking it.”