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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NYC 3020-a Arbitrator Randi Lowitt Retaliates Against Christine Rubino In A New Decision Ordered By NY State Supreme Court

by Betsy Combier, Editor
Christine, an excellent NYC public school teacher, made a stupid comment on Facebook which she took off her page a few days later, but by then, a "friend" had given a printout to her principal. Christine was terminated by Arbitrator Randi Lowitt, and Christine appealed her decision. The NYS Supreme Court vacated the termination, then Lowitt ruled that Christine made her plight public so she has to be punished with two years' suspension without pay. Are there any adults in the audience? by Betsy Combier
   Christine Rubino   

Christine's story has so many sideshows going on, it looks like a circus. We need to look at the entire picture so that the Gotcha Squad stops trampling on the rights of tenured teachers, a group to which Christine has been returned. One thing is crystal-clear, however: The New York City Department of Education, The home and resting place for the Gotcha Squad and the "No Hire" List as well as Arbitrator Randi Lowitt are furious with Christine Rubino and her fearless stand against their lawless and vindictive punishments which harm her. She is my friend, and I am honoring her by writing as much as I possibly can about the retaliation and harm Christine has had to endure simply because she refused to be squashed by theNYC DOE, even though she never had a chance to succeed at her 3020-a. The new Decision from Arbitrator Randi Lowitt is simply vindictive and retaliatory. More about that below.

Perhaps you are not aware of the huge importance the case of Christine Rubino has to Labor Policy and Employment Law throughout the U.S. As far as I know, Christine's case is the first NYC case where a tenured teacher was terminated for making a comment on what she believed was her private Facebook page, while the NYC Department of Education did not have a social media policy. The lack of oversight by anyone at the NYC DOE is one gaping hole in the planning and implementation of any policy. I have spent more than 9 years studying the gaping holes and mistakes of the DOE, and every day I hear of another. Mayor Bloomberg may have wanted to be the "Education Mayor", but he will never reach his goal because he did not put anyone in charge who knew what he or she was doing. Read my articles "The Who Are You Kidding Award Goes To Joel Klein" and "Kleingate", and you may fill in the dots as to what my opinion is concerning the public school system which my 4 children went through and are now, thankfully, out of (as in graduated). 

Christine's Facebook comment was made after a full teaching day with difficult children. She called them "the devil's spawn" on her private Facebook page which she shared with approximately 125 friends, none of whom were children. She suggested she would like to take them to the beach a day after 6th grader Nicole Suriel died on the beach while on a trip with her class for raising money at Columbia Secondary School. A few days later christine took the comment down and has been apologizing to the worls ever since. When the DOE started to go after her 5 months later, two of them ended up verbally abusing a friend of Christine's who taped them. These two investigators wanted the friend to tell them that Christine forced her friend to say that she, not Christine, was the one who put the comment on Facebook. The tape of these two goons was played at Christine's 3020-a and Randi Lowitt thought she heard "proof" that Christine tried to interfere with the investigation of her comment on Facebook, and used the tape to terminate Christine. I heard different "proof" - that SCI uses verbal abuse to get witnesses to say what they, SCI investigators want, and the discussion was frightening.

There are many things wrong with Lowitt's "assessment", if you can call it that. I attended Christine's 3020-a, and watched Randi Lowitt and Attorneys Theresa Europe and Jeff Gamils very carefully. My opinion of Lowitt's "assessment" was, she knew that Theresa Europe and the DOE had to go after Christine and she, Lowitt knew that Christine had to be terminated, because there were too many other side shows going on which could expose the DOE's massive fraud on the City of New York and the parents of the NYC public school system.

If you read the transcript of the first day of the Hearing, you will see that Jeff Gamils, the DOE Attorney, wanted to bring in three witnesses, even though Christine did not have an Attorney. Christine objected, and Randi told her, "There is nothing to object to" (p. 46). Also, it may shocj people to realize that Claude Hersh, head of NYC NYSUT office, picked the Attorneys who would work on the case (and, by picking the Attorneys, he chose the arbitrator). See p. 43, Jeff Gamils talks about the email from Claude. Then, in the transcript of the last day we read that the investigators who interviewed Christine's friend in her car told her that if she did not do what they wanted her to do, she would be put into jail. (p. 1486). This is pretty tough stuff, folks.

Christine had to be punished, not just for her daring to blow the whistle on the DOE by having media at her hearing - I am considered 'press', and Christine asked Sue Edelman of the NY POST to attend - but because of her connection, by sheer coincidence, to the imbedded fraud at the DOE:

1. Nicole Suriel, whose name was never mentioned by Christine, did not have to die in the beach accident June 22, 2010. Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera, Principal of Columbia Secondary School, was running a scam operation to fund his fake non-profit, and Nicole's class won the trip to the beach for raising the most money. But he couldnt have chaparones or permission slips, because he did not want questions to be asked about where the money would go. After the accident, the teacher was fired, the AP was demoted and Dr. Maldonado-rivera was reprimanded. The parents are suing. How come the Principal was only reprimanded? The DOE knew all about the scam he was running, and could not allow him to speak up about it, or get angry at the DOE. Tom Allon, CEO of Manhattan Media and running for NYC Mayor in 2013, gave him an award in 2009 as "Principal of the Year". I guess Tom played along , or did not do his research.

2. Several of her students in Christine's class in June 2010 who were referred to in her very temporary post on Facebook as "the devil's spawn" are the same kids who blinded Kardin Ulysse at the Roy Mann Junior High School in Bergen Beach. All people who have heard about the blinding of Ulysse call the kids who did the ugly deed "punks" and "little hooligans". No one has been reprimanded for this, like Christine was.

3. The DOE despises people who make "the NYC Department of Education look bad". Trust me, I am at the top of the list for harm, and all four of my children were harmed while attending their public schools. David Pakter, also a very outspoken teacher brought to 3020-a, was also charged with "making the DOE look bad." He and I asked Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT at the time, to get the DOE to withdraw that charge, and the DOE complied. Francesco Portelos is a new addition to the despised teacher list. He created a blog and posts anything the DOE says or does to him after he blew the whistle on his Principal, Linda Hill. The fact that Christine Rubino allowed Sue Edelman to come to her 3020-a infuriated Randi Lowitt so much, that Randi stopped the hearing after she told Sue Edelman to leave, and Sue said no. Randi backed down afterwards, but remained furious, as you can see from her new decision giving Christine two year's suspension without payafter Judge Jaffe in the NYS Supreme Court wrote a decision saying that Christine's termination was "shocking to the conscience".

4. David Senatore, the "friend" on Christine's Facebook page who printed out her comment and gave it to the principal of Christine's school, was also a teacher at the same school. He was a "favorite" of the Principal, who was covering up Senatore's love for certain boys who attended the after school program. Senatore knew that Christine and others were aware of his taking boys home with him and letting them use his pool. Getting Christine out of the school was a convenient solution. An update on Senatore's story is that in March 2012 he was removed from the school, and has been awaiting charges while sitting at 335 Adams Street. He called me to ask me to help him find one of the boys he was fond of, and told me not to tell anyone. I reported this call, and I heard that teachers have written the investigators about Senatore's actions for several years with the boys in the after school program. 

This article is the third that I have written about Christine Rubino. Here are the other posts on this website and on NYC Rubber Room Reporter:

The True Story of Teacher Christine Rubino And Her Prosecution By The New York City Department of Education
New York State Supreme Court Overturns Arbitrator Randi Lowitt's Decision To Terminate Christine Rubino For Facebook Comments by Betsy Combier

After NY State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe decided that termination was a "shocking" penalty and remanded the case back to the NYC DOE for a lesser penalty, the Gotcha Squad Director Theresa Europe and her subordinate, Attorney Jeff Gamils, made sure that Arbitrator Randi Lowitt got the case again. This is outrageous, as Jaffe did not order the new penalty be decided by the same arbitrator.

Randi Lowitt should never have been given the authority to make a second determination for Christine Rubino, as she was, at Christine's 3020-a, not neutral at all, in my opinion. In NYC the panel of arbitrators who get appointed to hear cases are "permanent", meaning they stay for a year, and get re-appointed by Theresa Europe and Claude Hersh from NYSUT every June. Until April 1, 2012, when new rules changed the business of arbitration that dominates this panel, anyone would have considered the job as NYC Arbitrator a very good one, as each arbitrator was paid $1400-$2300/day, not the much less fees for arbitration under the rules of the American Aarbitration Association.

Each arbitrator gets a DOE Attorney and a NYSUT Attorney who stays with him or her for the year, or for many years. This leads, of course, to an extremely 'chummy' environment where the Respondent teacher's witnesses and defense may be forgotten.

Christine alienated Randi Lowitt the second day of her hearing. Christine was given Attorney Sean Kelly as her NYSUT Attorney, and on day one she knew this would not work for her. Kelly did not believe in her case, and at the pre-hearing kept telling her to resign. I was not in attendance at the pre-hearing, but Christine and I had discussed her case before it began, and she asked for an open and public hearing so that I could attend. Here is Christine's first email to me sent Feb. 12, 2011:

"To Whom it May Concern,
Hello, My name is Christine Rubino and I have been working for the NYC Board of Education for the last 14 years. I have been in the same school for all those years. I am now currently sitting at 131 Livingston Street waiting for my 3020 hearing to proceed (Pre-hearing is Wednesday, February 16th, and hearing is supposed to begin February 17th). My crime... A facebook comment that was made on my own time, from my own computer, that was not racial or sexual in nature. Nor, did this comment contain names of the place of my work. It didnt hurt or threaten anyone. It was an off the cuff comment, that was made out of just having a bad day. My privacy settings were set to private, and a confidential person took comments and showed AP, and Principal. who then lodged a complaint against me with the Office Of Special Investigation. The Board is looking to fire me over this. I have many notes in my file that prove I am an excellent teacher and do a great job, but for some reason they are going for the jugular on this. I do not feel the union is preparing the case like they should, and I am seeking outside counsel on Monday. The punishment does not seem to fit the crime, and I feel like I am being railroaded, and that a huge injustice is being commited against me. Is this something you might be interested in. I am a single mother of 2 children, and feel like this is just a little too over the edge, and the DOE is being unfair."

I called her up and have spoken to her almost every week, sometimes every day, ever since.

On the first day of the actual hearing I was there. Christine told Randi and Jeff Gamils that she would no longer use Shawn Kelly in the 3020-a. This shocked and angered Randi Lowitt. Her team was broken. Lowitt tried to get Christine to start the hearing without her new Attorney, Brian Glass, but Christine kept objecting to this, and finally Lowitt gave in and closed for the day, not so much for due process considerations, but because she was frustrated in not getting her way quickly.
If you read the transcript of the first day of the Hearing, you will see that Jeff Gamils, the DOE Attorney, wanted to bring in three witnesses, even though Christine did not have an Attorney. Christine objected, and Randi told her, "There is nothing to object to" (p. 46). Also, it may shock people to realize that Claude Hersh, head of NYC NYSUT office, picked the Attorneys who would work on the case (and, by picking the Attorneys, he chose the arbitrator). See p. 43, Jeff Gamils talks about the email from Claude. Then, in the transcript of the last day we read that the investigators who interviewed Christine's friend in her car told her that if she did not do what they wanted her to do, she would be put into jail. (p. 1486). This is pretty tough stuff, folks. 

A side show to this side show is that on May 25, 2011, less than 1 month after the closing argument, there was a fire drill at 49-51 Chambers Street. I happened to be there for a hearing at which I was the paralegal. Everyone in the building had to exit the building, and all Arbitrators, Gotcha Squad, OPI personnel, everyone had to stand out side. A teacher who was going through his 3020-a with Attorney Kelly as his Attorney saw this person and I talking (the teacher was standing right behind me in line), and came over and said "Come with me." Kelly took this person a few feet away, turned towards the hundreds of people standing on the sidewalk, and started screaming at his client, "DO NOT SPEAK WITH BETSY COMBIER! ANYONE WHO SPEAKS WITH HER IS FIRED! SHE IS A CRIMINAL!" I decided to turn on the video on my smartphone, and walked calmly over to Kelly. I said to him, "Hey, Shawn, what's up with this? Where did you get this stuff from?" He told me that I was violating the law. I walked away, went back to the line.

Lowitt seemed to like Brian, but Christine had asked me to get media coverage and invited Sue Edelman of the NY POST. Sue had never been to a 3020-a, so she came. Lowitt was truly enraged, and told Sue that she could not sit in. Sue said that she did not have to leave, and this is an open and public hearing. Lowitt adjourned while she called a few people, and finally told everyone that she would "allow" Sue Edelman to stay. Sue is mentioned in Lowitt's second decision, below, that's how angry Lowitt was at that point with Christine, Sue, and probably me, as some sort of ringleader. Go figure.

As I have said in my previous articles, Theresa Europe, the Director of the Gotcha Squad and the ATU (Administrative Trials Unit) has her hand in every case, from a distance. I have seen her and spoken to her briefly whenever I see her at 51 Chambers Street quite often over the past 9 years. I have never attended a hearing where Theresa came and sat all day, many days of a hearing, as in Christine's case. I believe that she was making sure that Lowitt terminated Christine. It worked.

Lowitt's second decision after the remand back to the DOE is here. And now Christine is starting a second appeal. And on and on it goes, until nobody wins anything and everyone loses, all paid for by you, the public.

Are there any adults in the audience?

Betsy Combier

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