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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Harassed Brooklyn Teacher Theresa Reel Wins $450,000

Brooklyn teacher who says she was sexually tormented by students wins $450,000 settlement

Theresa Reel says students and staff at High School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg 'treated her like dirt.' She says students flung condoms at her and rubbed against her breasts



Theresa Reel shows how a student repeatedly elbowed her in her breast.


Former High School for Legal Studies principal Denise Morgan defended her handling of Reel's complaints.


Lawyer Joshua Parkhurst says the settlement, 'allows our client to get on with her life.'

A high school teacher who said she was sexually tormented by her students and then punished for complaining has scored a $450,000 settlement from the city.
Theresa Reel, 52, who quit her job when she signed the deal, said the knowledge that she never has to set foot in the High School for Legal Studies again is just as sweet.
“I wasted six years of my life being treated like dirt — less than dirt,” Reel told the Daily News on Thursday. “I can’t put into words how happy I am.”
The Mississippi native started working at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, school in 2005 and within a month, her job was a nightmare.
In a lawsuit she filed three years later, she described how students called her filthy names, flung condoms at each other and even touched her breast.
Her pleas to school bosses were met with accusations that she showed too much cleavage, she charged.
When she told then-Principal Denise Morgan that she made a student leave the class for sexual comments, the official’s response was: “And how does that threaten you?”
Morgan defended her handling of Reel’s complaints.
“I am very comfortable with the professional manner in which I responded to this teacher’s concerns,” she told The News.
After Morgan was replaced at the troubled school, the new principal, Monica Ortiz, gave Reel unsatisfactory ratings.
And a 2008 letter from the Department of Education chastised the social studies educator for “inappropriate attire,” described as a “low-cut, V-neck lace top.”
“It made me feel like I was worthless, like my own supervisors believed that I deserved to be treated like this,” Reel said at the Woodside, Queens, home she shares with her cat.
City officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“The settlement was in the Department of Education’s best interest,” said Lawrence Profeta, a city attorney.
Reel’s court papers detail the barrage of X-rated insults she faced in the classroom and corridors.
One boy allegedly told her: “I’ve got rubbers — want to party?” Another student accused a classmate of performing a sex act on Reel for good grades, she said.
She recalled one male student crossing a hallway so he could graze her breast with his elbow and then “smirk” at her.
“I was screaming,” Reel said.
She said the harassment made it impossible to function some days.
“Sometimes I’d break down on the subway,” she said. “I would go home, sit in front of the TV and cry.”
At one point, she said, she was suicidal.
“I had a plan in mind,” she said, without elaborating. “It got so black and bleak I couldn’t see it getting any better.”
The city tried to get the federal discrimination suit tossed out, arguing Reel did not prove the school was a hostile environment, that she was singled out for her gender, or that she faced retaliation.
On each count, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to let a jury decide and set a trial date for Sept. 10.
On Aug. 31, the city agreed to pay Reel $450,000 and remove the poor ratings from her record if she resigned.
“We think she had a very strong case,” said lawyer Joshua Parkhurst of Cary Kane LLP. “We ultimately agreed to settle because it allows our client to get on with her life.”
Reel has been on an unpaid leave of absence for a year, spending down her pensions savings. She’s been looking for a new job, but was even turned down for a cleaning gig.
DOE had no comment on the case.
Morgan, the former principal, is now an assistant principal at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Ortiz is still the head of Legal Studies, a D-rated school which had less than 60% of its students graduate in 2009.
Legal Studies made headlines in 2010 when teachers were caught taking a lavish, taxpayer-funded junket and students were busted for using cell phones to film brawls and sex acts.
Reel wasn’t the only person at the school who thought pupils were out of line. In a 2010 city survey, only 49% of the students said kids treated teachers with respect.

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