A public school teacher reached a settlement in her federal sexual harassment lawsuit against New York City’s Department of Education (DOE). The DOE agreed to pay $450,000 to settle allegations that she experienced ongoing sexual harassment from her students, and that school officials retaliated against her when she complained about the harassment. The lawsuit was unusual in the sense that the plaintiff did not experience sexual harassment from a supervisor or co-worker, but rather from students. According to the plaintiff, the DOE did not consider the situation to be a matter of employment discrimination or harassment and refused to act on her complaints, leading to her lawsuit.
Theresa Reel taught social studies at the School for Legal Studies (SFLS) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She alleged that she faced daily harassment from male and female students between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one for at least four years, beginning when she started teaching at SFLS in 2005. She described the harassment in her amended complaint as verbal abuse, threats of physical harm, and sexual assault. Incidents described in the complaint included repeated sexual remarks directed at the plaintiff, obscenity-laden insults, and inappropriate touching by students. In all, she detailed forty-two alleged incidents from October 2005 until September 2010, noting that the list was not exhaustive.
The plaintiff’s amended complaint describes the disciplinary process she claims to have followed, typically involving a “student referral form” delivered to the school administration. Few incidents received any substantial response from school officials. The DOE has stated, according to the plaintiff, that it does not consider student sexual harassment of teachers to be an issue of equal employment opportunity. The DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity allegedly told the plaintiff that it lacked jurisdiction over claims of sexual harassment by students.
The plaintiff filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in August 2008 and filed suit against the DOE in a New York federal court in August 2009. She alleges in her amended complaint that school officials retaliated against her because of her report to the EEOC and the lawsuit. She claims that she began to receive negative performance reviews after complaining of sexual harassment, when she had previously received satisfactory reviews. School officials allegedly accused her of making up many of the incidents. Some officials allegedly accused her of dressing inappropriately or otherwise somehow inviting the harassment. She also claims that the school’s principal did not fairly investigate her allegations, and that he assigned her additional paperwork and other assignments as a form of retaliation for her complaints.
The amended complaint, filed in October 2010, asserts causes of action for sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation under Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. The parties settled the case in September 2012 shortly before the scheduled start of trial. The plaintiff agreed to resign from her teaching position at SFLS, and the DOE agreed to a payment of $450,000.
The lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in New York City and surrounding areas, fighting to protect their rights at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
First Amended Complaint (PDF file), Reel v. New York City Department of Education, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, October 13, 2010
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