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.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

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 Teachers Are Pushing for Paid Parental Leave. How It's Going
Efforts to implement paid parental leave policies are slowly gaining traction, with teachers often advocating on their own behalf.
7 min read
Image of a pregnant person at work.
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words Cellphones Turned My Teaching Career From 'Awesome' to Exhausting
A former high school teacher shares how his students' increasing reliance on cellphones drove him out of the classroom.
5 min read
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Cassidy Araiza for Education Week
Teaching Profession Teachers’ Unions Are Gaining Ground in a State That Once Forbade Them
With unions now representing educators in its largest district, Virginia is seeing a labor resurgence.
7 min read
Image of a folder and a signed agreement.
Teaching Profession Q&A 'Fundamentally Changing the Conditions' for Teaching
A specialized STEM program builds in more planning time for teachers.
5 min read
Tess Carlson, Biology & Community Health Teacher for SFUSD Mission Bay Hub, demonstrates how to meter a pipet for Ruier Fang and Aldriana Ramos, both 12th graders at Thurgood Marshall, on April 29, 2024, in San Francisco.
Tess Carlson, the founding science teacher for Mission Bay Hub, demonstrates how to meter a pipet for students on April 29, 2024, in San Francisco.
Peter Prato for Education Week