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Due process works for Bronx para

Returns to classroom as rationale for termination ruled ‘fatally flawed’
New York Teacher

A District 75 paraprofessional in the Bronx who was terminated by the Department of Education in October 2010 is back in the classroom with full back pay and benefits after an arbitrator ruled that the DOE investigation resulting in her firing was “fatally flawed” and that the discharge was not based on “good and sufficient reason after due consideration.”

In filing the grievance, the UFT contended that the DOE violated the paraprofessional’s due-process rights as set out in the collective-bargaining agreement. UFT Special Representative for District 75 Jeff Huart declared the decision a “huge victory that clearly states that the contract is paramount in establishing guidelines that ensure our paras receive their due-process rights.”

The paraprofessional, who asked not to be named, had a five-year, unblemished record when she received the termination notice stating that “you lied to investigators” and notifying her that she had been put on the DOE ineligible list and blocked from any future employment in the city school system.

The determination that she lied was based solely on claims by an investigator with the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation of the New York City School District. That investigator concluded the paraprofessional had lied after questioning her on two occasions during his investigation of an unrelated case. Arbitrator Jack Tillem charged that the resulting termination was tantamount to the investigator “morphing into judge, jury and executioner.”

In her testimony at the arbitration hearing, Susan Holtzman, the counsel to the District 75 superintendent, acknowledged that she had accepted the special commissioner’s report accusing the paraprofessional of lying without further investigation and had drafted the letter of termination based solely on that report.

In his decision, the arbitrator noted that it was never made clear what the paraprofessional had lied about, nor was she allowed to confront the person who accused her of lying.

“The entire matter,” he wrote, “is marinated in hearsay.”

Citing the seriousness of Holtzman’s action, which deprived the paraprofessional of her livelihood, Tillem asked, “The question cannot help but nag: Wasn’t the grievant worth a separate investigation culminating in a separate report?”

UFT Grievance Department Director Ellen Gallin Procida characterized the termination as “an egregious lack of due process — a case of guilt by association designed to prove someone else guilty.”

She said the arbitrator’s reversal of the termination “upholds the contract’s guarantee of a paraprofessional’s right to an open-minded and fair investigation under the due-consideration safeguard.”

Related Topics: News Stories, Grievances