Teacher Acquitted of Sex Charges Sues NYC DOE After Being Fired Anyway

In November 2011, the news broke that Claudia Tillery, a teacher at the Stephen Decatur Middle School (MS 35) in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, had been arrested and charged with a number of serious offenses, including rape of a student, unlawfully providing a student with drugs and alcohol, and sexual misconduct by a teacher.

The charges stemmed from an alleged relationship between Tillery and a 12-year-old student. Prosecutors alleged that over a 2-year-period beginning in 2009, Tillery provided alcohol and drugs to the boy, gave him $500 in cash, and had sex with him on multiple occasions at her home and at The Atlantic Motor Inn, just a half mile from the school. Following her arrest, she was removed from the classroom and put on administrative duty pending the outcome of her trial.

On Yelp, where The Atlantic Inn has garnered a robust 1.5 stars, one Brooklyn resident left a scathing review in mid-2013:

Let me start out by saying that this location is one of those places you expect to see in New York… in the 1980s. Just terrible. People waiting out front to go in one of the rooms and have extremely loud sex, the rooms aren’t very clean, it’s in a sketchy/scary neighborhood and the customer service there is AWFUL!

It’s a good enough place to go to if you want to either use it for a nap or to have a quick romp with a sex partner. Other than that, stay away. Especially if you’re from out of town, this is NOT the place you want to be. Spend the extra $20-40 a night and get a cheap place in Manhattan.

But a motel’s seedy reputation, of course, is not evidence and in April 2014, a Brooklyn jury acquitted Tillery of all charges in the criminal case against her. Following the verdict, however, the New York City Department of Education filed a termination proceeding against Tillery.

Later that same month, DOE hearing officer Haydee Rosario issued a ruling that said that the only appropriate employment penalty for Tillery was termination. Rosario pointed out that unlike criminal trials, which require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” department hearings apply a standard of “preponderance of the credible record evidence.”

Rosario cited a number of pieces of evidence to support her conclusion that serious misconduct occurred. Tillery’s credit card records showed seven different stays at The Atlantic Motor Inn. She and the student exchanged roughly 8,000 text messages during the two years in question, many of a personal nature. The student also recorded at least one and possible three videos showing sexual contact with the teacher, and at least one of the videos had been seen by the victim’s older brother and another teacher in the school.

In her defense, Tillery claimed that the then-12-year-old was a “master manipulator” who had led her to get closer to him than was appropriate (an argument similar to the one raised by Jennifer Caswell in her interview with Dr. Phil). The hearing officer disregarded Tillery’s defense and said that the fact that she would raise it underscored the need for termination.

On Friday, 5/22, Tillery filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against the Department of Education, asking that the hearing officer’s ruling be overturned and that she be returned to her teaching position. According to reports, she claims that Rosario inappropriately considered evidence sealed by the criminal court following her trial, and erred by allowing the prosecutor to present evidence against her.

I plan to obtain and post copies of the DOE hearing decision and the Complaint, and will follow this litigation as it unfolds.

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