A nearly 4-year-old discrimination case between the South Colonie Central School District and a former female teacher ended last week when the teacher withdrew her lawsuit.
The case, which originated in 2005, stemmed from claims by teacher Brooke Helmes that district officials discriminated against her when she was not offered tenure following an extended maternity leave. Helmes wrote in an affidavit that she was employed by the district as a probationary teacher between July 2002 and July 2005.
Helmes said that her probationary period was scheduled to end July 31, 2005, at which time she expected to be offered tenure due to the length of time she had been employed by the district, and what she labeled as several positive reviews in her affidavit.
`In April 2004, I requested a maternity leave. The maternity leave was approved by the board, and I began that maternity leave in June of 2004,` said Helmes in her affidavit. `Prior to my maternity leave, every performance evaluation that I had received (six Formative reports and two Summative reports) ended with a ‘top box,’ indicating that I was ‘making appropriate progress towards tenure.’`
Helmes also said in the affidavit that at no point was it brought to her attention that there were areas in which she needed to improve.
Helmes’ maternity leave lasted the duration of the summer, and after the period of leave ended, Helmes asked to extend her leave. She returned later in the year, receiving a mediocre review the first time her performance was evaluated, according to her affidavit.
Helmes’ attorney, Michael Conway, had said that according to his client, her co-workers’ attitudes toward her had changed when she returned, and those who were once friendly were not any longer.
According to Conway, when Helmes was told that she would not be offered tenure, and so resigned from her position in the district.
`We’re claiming it was just a set-up,` Conway said in July.
The district attempted to have the case dismissed in July, saying Helmes did not have enough evidence to prove the district had practiced discrimination.
On Tuesday, July 9, U.S. Justice David Hurd decided Helmes’ case against the district could move forward, and it was scheduled to be heard Wednesday, Nov. 12, before Helmes withdrew it. A settlement conference was held Nov. 17.
District officials posted an update on the Web site claiming Helmes withdrew the because of the `overwhelming evidence` compiled by the district.
`I’m pleased with the result of the legal process as it shows the district took appropriate steps when evaluating this employee, and that the district has always taken employee rights and employer responsibilities very seriously,` Board of Education President James Tim Ryan said. `It’s simply a shame that we needed to go through this process and we look forward to returning to our main mission which is striving for educational excellence at South Colonie.`
William Ryan Jr., the school district’s attorney, said, `It is noteworthy that no claim of pregnancy sex discrimination has been found by any New York State Court or any United States District Court.`
Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Buhner, who was not an employee of the district during most of the proceedings with Helmes, said he was pleased that the lawsuit has reached a conclusion, and one that clears the district of a bad name.
`I’m pleased that this will be behind us as we have many things to be proud of here in South Colonie,` he said.“