On this website I have reviewed countless cases of arbitrator abuse and worked as a paralegal to overturn some of the worst (see the cases of Lisa Broad, where I assisted Attorney Candace Deamer, and David Suker, where I assisted Attorney Maria Chickedantz; see here as well). These are two of the 35 Appeals I have assisted with where New York State Supreme Court Judges overturned the decision of the arbitrator based on this decision being "excessive" for the crime or misconduct sustained at the hearing.
The trouble with all of this is that the process is random.
Every hearing is unique. I know, because I have attended/worked on at least 60 if not more, and I have reviewed hundreds of decisions of arbitrators and, before 1994, the Commissioner of New York State Department of Education. I find the randomness fascinating. How did one arbitrator find that a teacher was guilty of slamming a child against a wall to remove them from a fight in the classroom and give a $7500 fine, while another gets terminated for the same act, or less?
The fines, suspensions and terminations are not uniform or set to any standard. This is unlawful, because tenure in New York State is protected, public policy. There is a high standard for termination, and the arbitrators write their decisions often to get away with doublespeak on how egregious the charges were, to try to reach a justification for termination that they were told by a DOE person before the hearing began that they had to find. The case of Peter Principe went to the Court of Appeals on the issue of bias by Arbitrator Stuart Bauchner against him, and, as Peter insisted he was innocent of the misconduct, he would not be remorseful. Peter won .
Oh yes, folks, the permanent panel in New York City lends itself to all kinds of legal abuse. In other parts of New York State outside of New York City, when an tenured school employee is charged, these charges immediately go to a vote in an Executive Session of the school board on probable cause. As tenure is a property and liberty right in New York State, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment covers any unlawful seizure (I am not a lawyer, this is my opinion). have you been re-assigned, and told you must leave the school building immediately, leaving all your personal possessions in your classroom or elsewhere? You must get your belongings back or this is theft, and you should file a complaint with the police, not with the principal.
"C. Seizure of Property
A seizure of property, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual’s possessory interests in the property."
The Fourteenth Amendment:
Section 1.Try your best to find out if your stuff has been moved, where its been moved, and what is there. Request a visit to gather up your stuff, and if denied, file a grievance and then go to the police with a list of your property you dont have.
Any arbitrator who agrees to take a case handed to them, randomly - not - by the NYC DOE and the UFT, knows that they must meet a Constitutional Standard in their decision for/against penalty in each case.
Many arbitrators don't care, and do what is fair. My favorite arbitrator of recent years is Eugene Ginsberg. I believe that he was the most thorough, fair arbitrator on the panel. He was fired in September 2016.
He told me that if that was because of his decisions, so be it. See his decision in the case of Ann Legra.
Where some arbitrators will terminate anyone with so-called "excessive" absences, Arbitrator Ginsberg did not.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings has a problem with the randomness of the New York City 3020-a arbitrators in their penalties, as she wrote in the case of Moreno-Lieberman, which I use in all my closing arguments:
"IV.THE INVITATION TO ARBITRARY ASSESSMENT OF PENALTIES
In fact, the absence of any specific guidelines for the imposition of fines in teachers' disciplinary proceedings shocks the conscience and is a deficiency to be addressed by respondents or a legislative body. While respondents and their designated Hearing Officers unquestionably are authorized to impose fines on teachers for disciplinary offenses, the decisionmakers must do so fairly, not arbitrarily. General Elec. Capital Corp. v. New York State Div. of Tax Appeals, Tax Appeals Trib., 2 NY3d 249, 254 (2004); Abraham & Strauss v. Tully, 47 NY2d 207, 213-14 (1979); 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d 796, 804 (Sup. Ct. Bronx Co. 2008). Neither the Education Law, nor the Chancellor's Regulations, nor any other code fixes any "primary standard" or articulates any objective test or gauge, General Elec. Capital Corp. v. New York State Div. of Tax Appeals, Tax Appeals Trib., 2 NY3d at 254; Nicholas v. Kahn, 47 NY2d 24, 31 (1979); 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d at 805, to guide respondents' or Hearing Officers' exercise of authority and discretion in their assessment of monetary penalties. Big Apple Food Vendors' Assn. v. Street Vendor Review Panel, 90 NY2d 402, 407-408 (1997); Nicholas v. Kahn, 47 NY2d at 28, 33-34; 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d at 805. See Big Apple Food Vendors' Assn. v. Street Vendor Review Panel, 90 NY2d at 405-406. Their assessment of penalties that they are charged to administer may be upheld if the assessment is rational and not excessive, e.g., Goodwin v. Perales, 88 NY2d 383, 392 (1996), yet no statute or interpretive regulation articulates a standard or gradation against which to measure the rationality or excessiveness of a monetary penalty. Nicholas v. Kahn, 47 NY2d at 33-34; Levine v. Whalen, 39 NY2d 510, 518-19 (1976); 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d at 805-806.
In sum, the absence of any statute or implementing regulation to guide the evaluation of fines to be imposed allows unfettered, standardless, arbitrary administrative decisionmaking. 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d at 806. By delegating unbounded latitude to respondents and Hearing Officers in these administrative actions, the statutory and regulatory scheme leaves their decisions subject to untrammeled discretion. Big Apple Food Vendors' Assn. v. Street Vendor Review Panel, 90 NY2d at 408; Nicholas v. Kahn, 47 NY2d at 28, 33-34; 164th Bronx Parking, LLC v. City of New York, 20 Misc 3d at 806; Dawson v. Village of Spring Val., 151 Misc 2d 128, 134 (Sup. Ct. Rockland Co. 1991). See C.P.L.R. § 7803(3)."
So what is a teacher supposed to do who is charged with 3020-a? Fight. Don't settle, resign or disappear. The charges will follow you for the rest of your career. But be wary of anyone who belittles you, your charges, or does not have experience in NYC 3020-a. NYC is a minefield with bizarre statements made on a consistent basis, which must be addressed on the spot, at the hearing. The DOE wants their witnesses to lie, if that is what it takes to terminate a charged employee. Catch the lie, and have your representative squeeze out the truth in cross examination. The record made is what you work with on appeal.
In my opinion there are NYSUT attorneys who know what to do, but don't do work on any case if at all possible; some NYSUT attorneys do a minimum amount of work but are reluctant and must be pushed, and then there are NYSUT attorneys who seem to work diligently, but nonetheless will not get all your requests (medical, witnesses, exculpatory evidence) into the record, which in my mind is absolutely required, if you are to win at the 3020-a or in appeal.
The process in NYC starts out on the wrong foot when, in the charging papers, the Notice of Determination of Probable Cause Pursuant to Education Law 3020-a, has no date for the Executive Session of the school board (in NYC the Panel For Educational Policy) required by Education Law 3020-a(2)(a). The reason is that the NYC Department of Education never allows or schedules an executive session for the NYC school board, because they don't want it.
Really, and they get away with this in NYC because.
Just because you don't want to do something does not mean that you can allow a law to be ignored, but that is exactly what the NYC DOE does, and has done. In every case that I work on, we - the Attorney and I - submit a Motion To Dismiss the charges based on this procedural error. The arbitrator always dismisses this motion. But we use this in an appeal to the Supreme Court, and as I wrote above, we have overturned 35 decisions of arbitrators to date.
We have no secret on winning 3020-a. In every case the standard is to be respectful to the arbitrator but not to accept any Department nonsense without vigorously objecting, pointing out lies, submitting documentation about violations of law and UFT rules (there are always many in every case) and submit a dynamite closing argument that shows the arbitrator that the legal team - the Respondent, Attorney, paralegal - mean business, and will take any penalty seriously (and appeal, get media coverage of the arbitrator, etc.).
In sum, what I'm saying is that NYC 3020-a is a random and arbitrary mess, but it is entirely possible to clear the name of a charged employee , or avoid termination, by going to a decision of the arbitrator. The Respondent (charged employee)'s legal team MUST work together, sharing the transcripts as the hearing moves forward, and constantly working through the lies and violations of law and contract presented by the DOE. Then you can win.
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials