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Court reinstates ex-teacher’s retaliation claim


A former New York City high school teacher failed to successfully pursue an age discrimination claim against the New York City Board of Education, but a federal appeals court agreed to reinstate her retaliation claim in a ruling Tuesday.

Yvonne Massaro was a teacher in a New York City public high school from 1993 until her retirement in 2009, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in Yvonne Massaro v. Board of Education of the City of New York, New York City Department of Education.

After Ms. Massaro filed an age discrimination suit against the board that was dismissed in June 2011, she filed a second suit in December 2011, which alleged age discrimination as well as retaliation for filing the first lawsuit, according to the ruling.

The U.S. District Court in New York dismissed both the age discrimination and retaliation claims. A unanimous three-judge appeals court ruled that Ms. Massaro had not given the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adequate notice of her age discrimination claim before filing suit, and affirmed its dismissal. But it reinstated the retaliation claims. 

Ms. Massaro alleged that beginning in 2012, while the 2011 lawsuit was pending, she was subjected to harassment by the head of her school’s fine arts program and the school’s new principal, said the ruling. 

She charged her classes were overcrowded, she was assigned a disproportionally high number of students with serious behavioral and developmental problems, and was assigned to classes with no temperature controls, which were excessively cold in winter and extremely hot in summer, among other complaints.

Ms. Massaro alleged several actions that “could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,” said the appeals court panel, in quoting an earlier ruling.

The ruling said the lower court had dismissed Ms. Massaro’s retaliation claim on the basis the alleged retaliatory actions were not “temporally proximate enough to the earlier lawsuit to permit an inference of a causal connection,” said the ruling.

But the ruling said the three-month gap between May 2013 when the 2011 lawsuit was dismissed, and August 2013, when the alleged retaliation began “would not preclude temporal proximity.”

May to August is summer break, said the ruling. “In that context, it is plausible that August 2013, the start of a new semester, was the school personnel’s earliest opportunity to retaliate against Massaro following the dismissal of her 2011 lawsuit,” said the ruling in reinstating her retaliation claim.

Ms. Massaro’s attorney, Stewart Lee Karlin, of Stewart Lee Karlin Law Group P.C. in New York, said in a statement he was pleased with the retaliation claim ruling.

A spokesman for the New York City Department Office of the Corporation Counsel, which defended the case, declined to comment.

In April, the 2nd Circuit upheld dismissal of sex and race discrimination claims filed by a former New York City employee but reinstated her retaliation claims.




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