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Judge Orders Rehiring of Teacher

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 08:22 AM

A state judge has ordered the city to rehire a Staten Island teacher who lost her job about four years ago.

The unusual ruling, which the city could appeal, involves Lisa Capece, who taught at Public School 1 Tottenville on Staten Island from 2005 to 2008. When she didn't get tenure she challenged the decision through the grievance system established in the city's contract with the teachers' union, the United Federal of Teachers. She lost her case.

Most teachers stop at that point, but Ms. Capece took her case to court.

"She viewed it as her career," her lawyer, Jonathan Behrins, said. "This is what she loved to do." Mr. Behrins said his client declined to speak with reporters but was very happy about the ruling.

Ms. Capece claimed that she got good ratings from her principal until she complained about losing scheduled "prep time." A Staten Island judge, Kim Dollard, found that Ms. Capece had "sufficiently met her burden in demonstrating that her dismissal was done in bad faith," and that it was "in violation of a constitutionally permissible purpose, her involvement in the U.F.T., as the co-chapter leader" of her school.

But the city's Law Department disagreed with the ruling.

"She was terminated because she was a poor teacher -- not because of union activities," said a city lawyer, Adam Collyer.

"The other U.F.T. co-chapter leader at that school has consistently received satisfactory ratings and is still employed," Mr. Collyer said. "We are disappointed with the decision and are considering our legal options."

The Law Department also said the city was not required to rehire Ms. Capece during the appeals process.

Mr. Behrins pointed out that the other co-chapter leader Mr. Collyer referred to already had the protection of tenure. He also said the case showed the danger of relying too heavily upon principals to determine which teachers are most effective.

He estimated that his client's legal fees would add up to a year's salary. He said she made $51,000 in her last year as a full teacher, and would have received an increase upon making tenure.

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