Munoz v. Vega – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Munoz v. Vega, 2001 WL 1491330 (Sup. Ct., Bronx Co. 2001), aff'd 303 AD2d 253, 756 N.Y.S.2d 47 (2003), five public school principals challenged the discontinuance of their probationary employment by their respective community school district superintendents claiming, among other things, that the terminations were unlawful because the superintendents had not complied with the requirements of the Principal Performance Review (PPR).

The PPR, a format for evaluating principals' performance and providing for professional growth, was developed by a joint committee of representatives from the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (which includes superintendents) and the Department of Education.

In May 1998 the Chancellor prepared a memorandum encouraging principals to participate in the process and providing them with an overview of the process and forms to be used. The overview explained a three-step evaluation process that included consultations between the superintendent and the principal to develop and review goals and objectives and to evaluate the principal's performance in achieving those goals and objectives.

A further description of the PPR process was published by the DOE's Division of Human Resources, which also identified additional resources available to the principal.

The lower court rejected the principals' claim that the negative evaluations were unlawful in that they did not strictly comply with the PPR. While the Education Law did entitle the principals to annual performance reviews, the statute did not include the PPR process.

That process was set forth only in the Chancellor's memorandum, the handbook and various forms, all of which served as interpretive statements and statements of general policy that were primarily explanatory in nature and served as flexible guidelines, rather than as specific regulatory mandates. More importantly, however, the court specifically found that the PPR did "not create substantive rights." Id. at p 4.

The Appellate Division agreed, holding (at p 254) that:

"We also reject petitioners' claims that their terminations were unlawful because the superintendents did not comply with the requirements of the Principal Performance Review (PPR). The pertinent statute (Education Law §2590-f[1][f]) requires that superintendents evaluate the performance of principals at least annually. In addition, the New York City Board of Educations' Rules and Regulations require that all employees be made aware of their deficiencies and given assistance and opportunity to improve their performance. Petitioners do not claim that they were not evaluated at least annually or that they were not given notice of their deficiencies, but only that respondents failed to comply with the PPR's multistep evaluation and reporting requirements."