Teaching Profession

Supreme Court Declines to Review Bias Case of 5 Rochester Teachers

By Caroline Hendrie — March 30, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Five white teachers who accused the Rochester, N.Y., school district and the local teachers’ union there of job-related racial discrimination extended their long legal losing streak last week when they struck out at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Decrying the cases brought by four of the five teachers as “frivolous from beginning to end,” a federal appeals court last year upheld decisions by a U.S. District Court judge in Buffalo, N.Y., in favor of the 34,000-student district and the Rochester Teachers Association.

The five teachers, all represented by the same Rochester lawyer in four separate lawsuits, had asked the high court to review unanimous rulings last year by two panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City. One panel had upheld summary judgments against four of the teachers—Richard W. Seils, Lois Vreeland, Mary Lou Bliss, and Nancy L. Coons—and the other made a similar finding in a case brought by the fifth, Donald Murphy.

The Supreme Court declined without comment on March 21 to consider their appeal in Seils v. Rochester City School District (Case No. 04-807).

In throwing out all the cases, U.S. District Judge David G. Larimer found in three rulings in 2002 and 2003 that the suits were both procedurally flawed and substantively groundless.

Echoing that conclusion, an appeals court panel held that the first four teachers’ cases were frivolous. The panel suggested sanctions against their lawyer, Emmelyn Logan-Baldwin, under a federal rule requiring lawyers to ensure that their suits are firmly grounded in facts and the law.

Lawyers who run afoul of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure can be ordered to pay defendants’ legal costs, among other sanctions. A lawyer for the Rochester district said last week that the school system is seeking reimbursement for roughly $1 million in legal costs in all five cases, while the union is seeking about $500,000 from Mr. Murphy’s case alone.

Bias Claims Vary

In their Supreme Court appeal, the teachers said the 2nd Circuit court gave their cases cursory consideration, and they accused Judge Larimer of undue hostility. They argued that they had all been “severely harmed” by policies and practices of the district that were condoned by the union. The harms cited include the beating of one teacher by a student and the alleged sexual harassment of another by her school’s principal.

Although their circumstances varied, the teachers all claimed harm from a Rochester district policy aimed at boosting the ranks of nonwhite faculty members in some schools. They also claimed other types of bias, including discrimination based on sex, age, and disability.

Separately last week, the high court let stand a ruling by the 2nd Circuit court in a case brought by a New York City principal who said she was transferred for complaining about the school system’s plan to improve the elementary school she ran.

A jury found that a district official had indeed improperly retaliated against Sheila Hurdle for exercising her free-speech rights. But it also determined that the district should not be held liable for monetary damages.

The three-judge appeals panel unanimously affirmed that decision in October. On March 21, the high court declined without comment to review Ms. Hurdle’s appeal in Hurdle v. New York City Board of Education (No. 04-941).


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.
School & District Management Webinar Fostering Student Well-Being with Programs That Work
Protecting student well-being has never been more important. Join this webinar to learn how to ensure your programs yield the best outcomes.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What the Research Says U.S. Teachers Work More Hours Than Their Global Peers. Other Countries Are Catching Up
New international data show how teachers' work lives shifted in the pandemic.
3 min read
teacher diverse classroom
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Profession With New Grants, Teachers' Union Doubles Down on Partnerships With Parents
The American Federation of Teachers will invest $1.5 million in parent outreach—a counterweight to conservatives' parents'-rights narrative.
4 min read
Illustration of airplanes dropping money
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion 25 Reasons to Get Excited About Teaching
Let’s focus on the opportunities that teaching brings every single day to the classroom.
Louie F. Rodriguez
3 min read
illustration of a teacher watering a plant that is growing with students on it.
Nataliia Nesterenko/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession What the Research Says The Big Connection Between Teachers' Burnout and Their Principals
Less-demanding principals make for less-stressed teachers, a new study suggests.
3 min read
Image of two adults planning in a school classroom.