Lawsuits Involving School Employees Negligence In New York

Courts Found That Harsh Punishments were Disproportionate in Isolated Cases of Negligence by School Employees Otherwise Having a Clean Record: In Betz v. West Genesee Central School District Board of Education, 20 AD3d 909, 798 N.Y.S.2d 642 (4th Dept), lv app den 5 NY3d 716, 842 N.E.2d 26, 808 N.Y.S.2d 140 (2005), a school maintenance worker displaced a manhole cover while snow plowing the school parking lot and a teacher later fell though the open manhole. the court held that the dismissal of the worker for incompetence in failing to investigate and discover the open manhole, was too harsh in view of mitigating factors, such as his length of service and the absence of prior incidents of incompetence. In Smith v. Board of Education of Taconic Hills Central School District, 235 AD2d 912, 652 N.Y.S.2d 666 (3rd Dept 1997), the court held that dismissal of a school bus driver for one instance of speeding in a fast-moving section of a highway with no students on board, was disproportionate to the misconduct, where petitioner was a licensed driver for 43 years, had not previously received a traffic ticket, and was employed by the school for 14 years with a good disciplinary record. In Smith v. Board of Education, Onteora Central School District, 221 AD2d 755, 758, 633 N.Y.S.2d 625 (3d Dept 1995), lv app den 87 NY2d 810, 665 N.E.2d 66, 642 N.Y.S.2d 858 (1996), the termination of a school bus driver for misconduct and insubordination based on his attempts to discipline a student by slapping him, lifting him off the floor and banging his head into the bus roof, was found disproportionate and shocking in view of mitigating factors, including the driver's above-average work performance evaluations and the student's consistent misbehavior problems in both the classroom and the school bus. In Comins v. Camden Central School District, 214 AD2d 1032, 626 N.Y.S.2d 615 (4th Dept), lv app den 86 NY2d 708, 658 N.E.2d 219, 634 N.Y.S.2d 441 (1995), the penalty of dismissal of a school bus driver for misconduct and incompetence, based on an accident in which the driver failed to negotiate a curve on a snow-covered road and landed in a ditch, and no student passengers were seriously injured, was found to be too harsh in light of the driver's otherwise unblemished 13 1/2 year record during which she received 13 safe driving awards. The court in Benson v. Board of Education of the Washingtonville Central School District, 209 AD2d 693, 619 N.Y.S.2d 153 (2nd Dept 1994), lv app den 85 NY2d 809, 651 N.E.2d 919, 628 N.Y.S.2d 51 (1995), determined that the school bus driver's termination was disproportionate to her offense of operating the school bus in an unsafe, uncontrolled and negligent manner resulting in accident in bus garage, since no school children were involved in the accident, the incident was isolated and not indicative of a pattern of mishaps or misconduct, the driver was a relatively long-time employee with a clean record, and the driver was operating the bus with the express approval of her superiors. In Ross v. Oxford Academy & Central School District, 187 AD2d 898, 590 N.Y.S.2d 552 (3rd Dept 1992), lv app den 81 NY2d 705, 611 N.E.2d 301, 595 N.Y.S.2d 400 (1993), the court found the penalty of dismissal disproportionate to the offense of using physical force on four students, given the driver's 15-year record and his most recent evaluation that he used good judgment in his work, and displayed enthusiasm and responsibility for the students, and the uncontradicted evidence of the difficult nature of the children involved. In Borkhuis v. Quinn, 158 AD2d 917, 551 N.Y.S.2d 82 (4th Dept 1990), the court held that the dismissal of a school bus driver on three charges of misconduct was shocking to one's sense of fairness where the driver had an excellent driving record for 20 years, and received awards and commendations for her work; "[u]nder the circumstances presented, we consider a suspension without pay for 12 months to be the most severe sanction that should be imposed."