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Federal Court Rules Against NYC Board of Ed: Teacher Exam Discriminated

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December 6, 2012, New York – In a long-standing civil rights lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the firm of DLA Piper against the New York City Board of Education, a federal court found that a teaching certification exam was discriminatory and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As a result, the Board of Education will be subject to independent monitoring to ensure the current version of the exam does not continue to discriminate against minority teachers. 

Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, “After 16 years in the courts, the Board of Ed and the New York State Education Department are finally being held accountable for racially discriminating against qualified teachers of color in our city. At a time when high-stakes testing is a growth industry, the Court’s decision is an important reminder that such tests must remain fair.”
 
In 1993 and again in 1996, the State Education Department and the Board of Education mandated that all State and City teachers – entering and experienced teachers alike – pass written certification tests.  Yet unlike new teachers entering the classroom, the teachers in this case had already earned master’s degrees, passed content specialty exams, completed other required course work, and received nothing but satisfactory evaluations in their many years of employment in the city schools.  The men and women represented in this case lost their permanent teaching licenses, seniority, retention rights, and in some cases their tenured teaching positions, and had their salaries drastically reduced. The Board kept them teaching the same course load, with the same responsibilities, but without the same benefits.

The lawsuit, Gulino v. Board of Education, was filed in 1996 by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Elsa Gulino, a Latina public school teacher, and three of her African American colleagues. They charged that the certification test they were required to take (called the Liberal Arts & Sciences Test, or LAST), had a disparate racial impact and that the City and the State failed to demonstrate the test was actually related to relevant job requirements.  After a series of appeals by the parties, a federal judge’s ruled yesterday that the test discriminated in violation of Title VII.
 
Said Joshua Sohn of DLA Piper, “This decision makes clear that the City’s use of the LAST both to deny permanent positions to teacher applicants and to cut salaries and benefits of in-service teachers was unlawful.  The court recognized that the LAST provided no reliable information about the qualifications or abilities of the affected teachers.”  
 
The court also ruled that the teachers would need to file a separate action to enforce any monetary damages resulting from the Board’s past use of a discriminatory exam. There will be a status conference in the case on January 10, 2013 to explore other forms of relief.
 
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights Gulino case page.
 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.