NYC School Teacher Sues to End Alleged Retaliation for Reporting Unsafe Conditions

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Leeds Morelli & Brown, the Carle Place, NY law firm, filed suit in federal court on behalf of a New York City school teacher allegedly disciplined in retaliation for complaining to OSHA about unsafe conditions at a Brooklyn school facility.

A tenured gym teacher has sued administrators of a New York City public school in a bid to save his career, which he claims has been jeopardized by administrators who disciplined him in retaliation for blowing the whistle on unsafe conditions at a building used as a school annex.

The teacher, Brian Ross, claims in a $15 million federal court lawsuit filed on Oct. 26 that administrators of highly regarded P.S. 132, the Conselyea School, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, disciplined him on fabricated charges for reporting the unsafe conditions to OSHA. OSHA subsequently shut the facility.

The filing of the suit was announced Oct. 26 at a press conference outside the New York City Department of Educations in lower Manhattan.

Ross’ suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (index No. 10-cv-4937) by Jeffrey Brown of the Carle Place law firm Leeds, Morelli & Brown, alleges that the administrators violated his constitutional rights to free speech by filing false letters in his personnel file, disciplining him, humiliating him in front of students and colleagues and killing a pay raise he was due after he complained about conditions at a facility known as the School Settlement House that included peeling lead paint, asbestos and a lack of emergency plans.

Named in the suit were the school's principal, Beth Lubeck-Ceffalia, assistant principals Stephanie Korotz and Danielle Santoro and the New York City Department of Education.

In addition to financial damages, the suit seeks to enjoin administrators from continuing their harassment of Ross and to expunge the disciplinary letters in his file.

Ross, who received tenure two years ago and who has taught at the school since 2005 with only satisfactory reviews, according to the court filing, stated in his suit that he was assigned by administrators in April 2009 to teach gym classes at a more-than-century-old building a few blocks from P.S. 132 known as The Settlement House.

At that time, according to the suit, Ross expressed his misgivings about the building’s lack of security, lack of medical equipment or an on-site nurse, lack of a communications system for emergencies, as well as its lack of an escape or fire drill plan. His court filing described the building as dilapidated and dirty and containing many unsafe and unhealthy conditions including what appeared to be peeling lead paint and asbestos. OSHA shut down the building on May 20, 2010,

Ross in the suit said he began having respiratory issues during his first day in the Settlement House.

Since his OSHA complaint, the suit stated, Ross “has been subject to a pervasive pattern of adverse employment actions in retaliation for speaking out regarding a matter of public concern.” These actions included the placement of multiple disciplinary letters in his personnel file alleging violations of various school policies and unsatisfactory observation reports “based on falsehoods and misrepresentations.” The suit alleges among other things that Ross was relegated to the duties of a substitute teacher while his gym classes were assigned to another teacher, that he was required to proctor exams and do hallway duty, and that a pay raise for the 2010-11 school year would not be awarded, because of his unsatisfactory ratings.

School officials offered Ross a satisfactory rating in June 2009, if he agreed to transfer to another school, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that that Ross continued to be the subject of disciplinary letters in the current school year for alleged policy violations and was sent to other schools to observe other teachers.

Ross claims in the suit the retaliation efforts resulted in the “loss of earnings, accrued benefits, in addition to suffering great pain, humiliation, as well as physical and emotional damage.”

The suit, assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, presiding in Brooklyn, N.Y., requests a jury trial.        

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