Sperow v. Regional School District No. 7 - 0130607, Decision on Request for Reconsideration
CHRO No. 0130607
Fed No. 16aa13360
CHRO ex rel.
Joyce Sperow, Complainant
Regional School District No. 7, Respondent
January 4, 2006
Decision on Commission's and Complainant's Request for Reconsideration
The Commission's and Complainant's December 16, 2005 Request for Reconsideration of the December 1, 2005 Ruling on Motion to Dismiss (hereinafter "Ruling") is denied. The request mischaracterizes the scope of the Ruling by in effect setting up a caricature strawman and proceeding to subject it to vilification and serial dismemberment. This denial is not to be construed as altering or modifying the Ruling in any way, but only to clarify the limited scope of the Ruling.
The Ruling acknowledges that the Connecticut legislature has seen fit to establish a comprehensive procedure whereby a Connecticut public school teacher who is targeted for dismissal by municipal or regional school administrators for purported professional deficiencies relating to incompetence, insubordination, moral misconduct and other good cause, may quickly and expeditiously (while receiving full pay and benefits) challenge these administrators' assessments and threatened dismissal in a trial-like environment wherein the burden of proof is on the administrators, and may appeal as of right any adverse finding to the superior court. The Ruling then finds that if a teacher makes full utilization of this procedure, then the results must be afforded limited preclusive effect so as prevent the identical issue (the teacher's professional deficiencies) from being relitigated (with reinstatement proceedings being initiated anew) as if the prior proceedings had never taken place.
The Connecticut legislature has determined that what was referred to in the Ruling as the "Section 151 Process" is an important and valued legal and procedural vehicle to allow Connecticut public school administrators to remove unfit and or underperforming teachers from the classroom expeditiously, with some containment of formerly catastrophic legal and administrative costs, while at the same time providing due process to the teacher. It is intended as the default procedure by which a teacher accused of professional deficiencies, can face his or her accuser(s) and meet the charges "head on" before a panel of professional experts, and appeal any adverse finding as to his or her fitness to and through the courts. The Ruling establishes only that once the question of professional fitness has been submitted to this process, a hearing held, findings made and all proceedings thereunder endorsed by the Connecticut courts, is a terminated teacher precluded from again raising the question of professional fitness in a subsequent proceeding intending to effectuate reinstatement. By necessity this would include any such proceeding before the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (hereinafter "Commission"). To rule otherwise would render a Section 151 Process teacher termination, including one perhaps appealed all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court, a legal nullity, preclusive of nothing. Such a waste of legal and professional resources (not to mention taxpayer dollars) cannot be what the legislature intended, nor what the courts would likely allow.
It should be noted that the Section 151 Process is not some aberrant legislative anomaly, and is consistent with other statutory default termination vehicles set up for other categories of municipal employees:
· Sections 29-299 and 29-230 of the General Statutes (municipal fire marshals);
· Section 7-278 of the General Statutes (municipal police chiefs);
· Section 7-298 of the General Statutes (municipal police officers);
· and Section 7-302 of the General Statutes (municipal fire chiefs).
Having depicted the scope of what the Ruling does say, it should be further specified what it does not say. It does not say the following:
· That a public school teacher cannot come to the Commission with a claim of constructive discharge predicated on a hostile work environment attributable at least in part to impermissible and unlawful discriminatory animus on the part of school administrators;
· That a teacher who is the victim of unlawful discrimination cannot come to this Commission with such claims relating to the terms and conditions of his or her employment as they may relate to suspension, discipline, failure to promote or other adverse impact in the terms and conditions of employment.
· That a teacher cannot use direct evidence of unlawful discrimination in a Section 151 Process to establish that the charges are mere pretext, have not been made in good faith and do not warrant termination or other discipline
· That a teacher, fearful that discrimination is rampant throughout the school district, and distrustful that the Section 151 Process can adequately divorce itself from the animus, cannot come directly to this Commission subsequent to a noticed termination-or subsequent even to a Section 151 Process administrative termination but without a subsequent appeal to the superior court. The ruling does not address exhaustion of prior or alternative remedies.
· That any other process and or relief that this Commission is authorized by law to administer is precluded, save as defined and detailed in the Ruling.
The Ruling is respectful of the jurisdiction, powers and mission of this Commission, and its charge to protect the civil and human rights of all who live and work in the State of Connecticut. The Ruling acknowledges only that it has been administratively determined and judicially sanctioned, after a requested (by Complainant) and rigorous contest on the merits, that it is in the best interests of the Region 7 School District and its students that the Complainant--for professional reasons-no longer be employed as a school teacher in the district. The Complainant's case may still therefore proceed before this Commission as a case employing a mixed-motive analysis. There are of course procedural and evidentiary ramifications that arise as a result of the Ruling, and the Complainant will now be restricted to claims appropriate to a Title Vll proceeding, as further authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Complainant is now restricted to such legal and equitable relief as that law may allow. The Commission, while curtailed in its ability to obtain relief for the Complainant, remains free to pursue its charge to advance the public interest as it relates to any impermissible doings by the Respondent, and to request relief appropriate to any findings predicated thereon.
It is so ordered this 4th day of January 2006.
J. Allen Kerr, Jr., Presiding HRR Date
A. Simonetti-via fax only
M. Sommanruga-via fax only
J. Secola-via fax only