In the Matter of Helen Hickey v. New York City Department of Education

In the Matter of Rachel Cohn v. New York City Department of Education

Petitioners Helen Hickey and Rachel Cohn are two tenured teachers who seek to have “letters of reprimand” removed from the personnel files for failure to follow Education Law § 3020-a procedures by filing an Article 78 petition against the Board of Education.

For Petitioner Hickey, the letters of reprimand placed in her file stated that she demonstrated incompetence and “unsatisfactory professional attitude” when preparing students for a field day. For Petitioner Cohn, the letter was a complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Equal Opportunity. The complaint was in regards to a heated discussion with the principal, where Cohn told her to watch her “Latin temper.” The letters of reprimand was placed in both Petitioners’ file in 2008 and indicated that it “may lead to further disciplinary action.”

Respondent maintains that the letters were appropriately placed in their files according to the 2007-2009 Collective Bargaining Act (CBA). According to the 2007-2009 CBA, Petitioners’ union waived the section 3020-a procedures, allowing the letter of reprimand in tenured teacher’s filed and replaced it with a different procedure stated in Article 21A.

Supreme Court granted the petitions and ordered the letters be expunged from the Petitioners’ files. However, the Appellate Division reversed the decision and denied the petition.

According to Section 3020, “a CBA negotiated between respondent and the United Federation of Teachers, petitioners’ union, can modify or waive the 3020-a procedure.” The Supreme Court agrees that Article 21A of the 2007-2009 CBA states the procedure directing the placement of reprimands letter in tenured teacher’s files. Article 21A is broad provision that clearly states procedures for letters of reprimands and the issue in these two cases fell within the purview of Article 21A.

The Supreme Court concluded that the union knowingly waived the procedural rights granted in Education Law § 3020-a. Therefore the letters of reprimand are not subject to 3020-a procedures and Petitioners are not permitted to have them expunged.

For both cases, the Order is affirmed, with costs.

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