Former New York City Schoolteacher Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $115,000

A former teacher at a Queens public school settled her federal sexual harassment lawsuit against the city in October 2014. Her lawsuit, which asserted claims under city, state, and federal law, alleged that the school’s former principal repeatedly made overt romantic and sexual advances towards her, and that he retaliated against her when she refused him. Calise v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Educ., et al, No. 1:13-cv-07336, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Dec. 26, 2013). She ultimately resigned, claiming that the principal was looking for a pretext for firing her. The principal, who also no longer works at the school, was critical of the settlement, stating that the city should have gone to trial. As part of the settlement, the city will pay the plaintiff the sum of $115,000 in damages.

According to her complaint, the plaintiff began working for the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in 2009 and took a position as a special education teacher at PS 49 in August 2010. She claimed that she “proved herself as a hard-working, dedicated, and professional teacher.” Id. at 2. The principal allegedly routinely made both implied and express romantic overtures. He also, the plaintiff claimed, made unwanted physical advances, including rubbing her shoulders, putting his arm around her, and “push[ing] his body into [her] chest,” id., despite what she described as clear and unambiguous rejection.

A union representative informed the plaintiff in May 2012 that the principal was considering firing her. The plaintiff claims the principal subsequently told her that she had “anger issues.” Id. at 18. She stated in her complaint that “[t]he only ‘fear’ [she] ever exhibited at the school was her outright fear of” the principal, id., and that this was retaliation by the principal for rejecting his advances. She chose to resign at that time in lieu of termination.

In December 2013, the plaintiff filed suit in federal court against the DOE and the principal for gender discrimination, constructive discharge, and hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. Sexual harassment is considered a form of gender discrimination under all of these laws. She also claimed that the defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and are therefore liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The principal retired in March 2014, but he denied that the lawsuit was a specific factor in his decision. He criticized the DOE’s decision to settle the lawsuit in October 2014, claiming that the plaintiff never complained of harassment to the school administration or her union representative while employed at PS 49. Under the terms of the settlement, neither defendant must admit to any of the plaintiff’s allegations. This is a common feature in settlement agreements, which are typically intended to resolve a lawsuit without the additional expense or risk of trial. The DOE agreed to pay $115,000 in damages, and in exchange it has no further legal liability for the plaintiff’s claims.

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of people in the greater New York City area who have experienced sexual harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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