Joanna Stergiou v. New York City Department of Education
Petitioner, a tenured teacher, moved to vacate an arbitration award pursuant to CPLR 7511.
Pursuant to Education Law 3020-a, the DOE sought to terminate petitioner’s employment due to: “insubordination, incompetent and inefficient service, misconduct, corporal punishment and conduct unbecoming her profession.”
According to agreement between DOE and the United Federation of Teachers, compulsory arbitration and a selected hearing officer were required to determine the DOE’s charges against Petitioner. The penalty imposed by the hearing officer was an eight (8) month suspension without pay and completion of remediation courses to improve her skills within the classroom.
Petitioner argues that the hearing officer did not consider and address her defense under Civil Service Law 75-b. Petitioner stated that the Assistant Principal allegedly “wrongly directed her and other teachers to increase the grades of failing students.” Petitioner argues that the hearing officer allowed for testimony of children without determining their competency. Also, that the hearing officer violated her due process rights when she was excluded from the hearing with the minors testified. Lastly, that the hearing officer was biased in her decision.
The Petitioner’s retaliation defense, “whistle-blowing” must be considered by the hearing officer. The court found that the hearing officer clearly considered the defense and denied it based upon credible evidence.
Regarding the incompetent witness/failure to confront witness argument the court found that the hearing officer did conduct a preliminary examination and found the minors able to take an oath. Considering the Petitioner’s claim due process rights were denied, the Court found the claim unpersuasive in that Petitioner does not have an absolute right within an arbitration/administrative disciplinary hearing. As well, Petitioner’s counsel was allowed to cross-examine the minors on Petitioner’s behalf.
In accordance with Petitioner’s bias claim, the Court found it to be unproved and unsupported speculation.
The court found that the “penalty imposed on petitioner is not shocking to the conscience or disproportionate to the charged offenses.” Therefore, the Award was found to not be arbitrary and capricious and the petition was denied and the proceeding was dismissed.