Christine Rubino’s Spring Break

break

During this past school years’ Spring Break, I attended the latest act in the ever-unfolding drama of the NYC Department of Education versus Christine Rubino.

Christine was terminated in 2011 after some comments she posted on her personal Facebook page. The DOE’s arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, believed that this one incident made Christine unfit to teach forever, despite 15 years of spotless service. Facing financial and professional ruin, Christine hired the Teacher’s Lawyer, Bryan Glass, to appeal Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. Justice Barbara Jaffe found that Lowitt’s decision was “shocking to the conscience” of the court and mandated that Lowitt come up with a less harsh penalty.

Meanwhile, the DOE appealed Jaffe’s decision to the New York State Appellate Division. While the case was working its way up the calendar, Lowitt handed down her new decision: 2 years suspension without pay. This decision kept Christine in poverty just long enough so that she had to sell the house in which she was raising her two young children. I suppose it makes sense in some twisted universe somewhere for Lowitt to traumatize two young children for the sake of protecting countless other children from Facebook statuses they will never see.

Right after Lowitt’s new decision was handed down, the DOE’s appeal was ready to be heard by the Appellate Division. As opposed to the State Supreme Court, whose cases are heard by one presiding judge, the Appellate Division has a panel of 5 justices. I arrived relatively early and was able to listen in on some of the other cases being heard. The justices on the panel seemed fair. They were patient with people who did not have lawyers and asked pointed questions that showed they had not only listened to the arguments, but read the background of each case. How would they receive the Christine Rubino case? Christine’s future literally hung in the balance.

Christine’s case was called. Bryan Glass headed to the podium as did the DOE’s lawyer, Deborah A. Brenner. The litigants at the Appellate Division have only a few minutes to make their cases before the justices start asking their questions. Brenner started the case by painting Christine Rubino in the worst possible light. Not only had Christine said something bad on Facebook, she lied about it, tried to have her friend lie about it and did not show any remorse for her actions. Brenner basically summarized Lowitt’s original decision and justification for terminating her.

Bryan Glass pointed out that Christine did show remorse. After all, she had taken down the comments three days after she posted them, well before she knew of any investigation against her. He also called into question the idea that Christine tried to cover up the matter. As I have written here before, the DOE investigators pretty much browbeat Christine’s friend in the back of a DOE car (yes, they have those) until she said what they wanted her to say. The browbeating included threats of going to jail on Riker’s Island for lying to investigators, a bluff on their part since one cannot be prosecuted for such an act. Despite the fact that Christine’s friend had this horrifying experience on tape, Lowitt did not at all consider it when making her decision.

Once Glass had ended his presentation, it was time for the jutices to ask questions. The first few questions sought to clarify the timeline of events, like when the comments were made, when she was terminated, etc. It is difficult for me to remember all of the details now almost 6 months after the case. However, one justice in particular deserves to be singled out for a job well done.

Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels saw through Deborah Brenner’s disingenuous arguments. Throughout the previous cases I watched, Justice Manzanet-Daniels seemed to always sympathize with the underdog. She asked Brenner questions along the lines of, “why is termination the only penalty you’re willing to hand down?” Brenner stammered and reiterated the line of logic laid out by Randi Lowitt. Then Justice Manzanet-Daniels picked up on the matter of the supposed cover-up by Christine. She questioned why Randi Lowitt had not mentioned the audio tape of DOE investigators shaking down Christine’s friend in her decision and said that she would like to hear the tape. Brenner responded that the facts of the case are not before the court, just the arbitrator’s decision. Essentially, Brenner was instructing the justice on a point of law and procedure.

At that point, Justice Manzanet-Daniels became visibly ticked off. I am no litigator but I do know that it is not a good idea to try to instruct a judge on what should go on in their own courtroom, no matter how wrong one thinks the judge might be. Justice Manzanet-Daniels promptly closed the giant binder in front of her that contained all of the paperwork of the case and said something along the lines of “you’re right, it doesn’t matter”. She had probably made her decision right then and there. All of the justices had obviously seen the DOE’s case for the sham that it was, but Justice Manzanet-Daniels saw right to the marrow of things. What was revealed on the tape, as well as how the tape was not even part of Lowitt’s decision, was the Rosetta Stone of the entire DOE v. Christine Rubino fiasco, and Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels knew it.

Deborah Brenner was beaten from pillar to post by the Appellate Division. All of the justices, in one way or another, questioned the DOE’s rabid opposition to allowing Christine Rubino back in the classroom. All of them seemed to know that this case was about more than just a Facebook post. Yet, Christine Rubino herself was not so sure. After years of being vilified by the DOE and the media, she was not going to bank on anyone helping her get justice. It would be a long few weeks before the court’s decision was known.

When the decision finally did come down, it was not reported on by any of the outlets that had vilified Christine Rubino. Why would they report it? The New York State Appellate Division ruling 5-0 in favor of a teacher who had been wrongly terminated is not in step with the teacher-hating narrative they are trying to spin. That means that 6 judges in total heard the case of the DOE v. Christine Rubino, including Barbara Jaffe, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels and the rest of the Justices in the Appellate Division, and every single one of them sided with Christine. The only people who wanted to see Christine terminated were Randi Lowitt (who receives a DOE paycheck) and the New York print media (who will print any story that maintains their coveted access to Tweed and City Hall). People who have delved into the facts of this case objectively all come out on Christine’s side.

Despite the decisions by the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, it is hard to say that justice was served. Most people in Christine’s situation would not have fought as hard as she did. They would have licked their wounds and moved on to try to make their way in another profession. Nobody would blame them for doing such a thing either. It becomes almost impossible to believe in yourself when the DOE, the media and the general public are all saying how horrible you are. Because of the efforts of these forces, Christine and her children had to live in poverty for two years. They had their lives uprooted. Christine now has to rebuild her public image. If not for an inextinguishable fighting spirit, Christine Rubino would have gone the way of countless other unfairly persecuted teachers.

This school year marks her return to the DOE not as a teacher but as an ATR. While she has won the first major battle in this war by getting back on the payroll, there is still a long fight ahead. Not only does she, like every other ATR, have to fight to get back into the classroom but she is probably due some major monetary justice due to everything through which she has been put. Whether or not Christine wants to fight these battles is totally up to her. Nobody would blame her if she stopped now.

In a particularly comical turn of events, the DOE is currently appealing the decision of the Appellate Division. However, they have to appeal it to the branch of the court system that handles appeals, which is the Appellate Division. The DOE is appealing the ruling of the Appellate Division to the Appellate Division. They would be wise to send a lawyer who is not going to lecture the justices about procedure. Then again, the DOE has never been known for their wisdom.

The DOE is afraid of defeat. They fear that they would not have the luxury to fire teachers for similar infractions in the future if Christine Rubino is able to ultimately win. If they could fire teachers for Facebook posts, what is to stop them for firing a teacher for a comment they make on a blog or something they say at the supermarket? Christine’s victory has limited their latitude as employers who like to fire people. Apparently, they have no problem with throwing more money into their obsessive quest to crush this one lone teacher who dared to fight them. At what point will they call off their legal dogs?

Whichever way she chooses to go, Christine Rubino has fought the good fight for herself and all other persecuted educators.

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19 responses to “Christine Rubino’s Spring Break

  1. Thanks for reporting on this case in such detailed fashion.You’re doing so is a mitzvah, helping to keep in the public eye the DOE’s attempted perversion of justice.

    Kudos to Christine for her perseverance, and to you for maintaining public support for her.

  2. Thank you so much-for always writing an unbiased account of what has transpired! I certainly appreciate it. This situation that I was thrown in has had many terrible aspects. There has been ALOT of good though. Getting to know you and a few other people..has made this unbearable situation…pleasant. I am thankful that we have formed a strong bond…and love all the laughs we can have now! APPRECIATE IT!!

  3. Great article. We need good teachers for the hope of our childrens’ future. I have seen Ms. Dorto with her own children & she is amazing with them. I also had the experience of being tutored in math by her. No one is perfect, but I know Christine since childhood & she comes from a lovely family & is a great teacher & wonderful with children. It saddens me that people get away with the most heinous of crimes & this poor woman & her children had to endure so much heartache & financial burden over someone trying to cause her grief over an innocent non-intentional Facebook vent. I have heard plenty of wife’s, husbands, parents, venting, saying things like “I’m going to kill you.” Gee, should they be granted divorce on the grounds of their words? Should the kids me taken away? Isn’t this America? Aren’t we granted the freedom of speech under the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution? I used to kiss the ground that we were free to boycott in places like Zucatti Park & don’t suffer years of oppression like other countries thanks to our military. But stories like this nauseate me that innocent people over the most ridiculousness suffer years of hell over someone being a –as we say in the old days–“Bidinsky.” hail to Ms. Dorto for being a rock to her children & fighting tooth & nail for some type of justice. You are a true warrior my friend.

  4. Thank you for starting my week on a hopeful note-the story of a warrior queen written by a first rate muckraker with a happy ending. This is my idea of the righteous common core-at the core of many successful battles against insidious evil are people willing to fight the good fight at tremendous personal costs and talented wordsmiths who speak truth to power.

  5. Christine is one of the bravest and principled people I have ever known. Take them to the cleaners!

  6. Au contraire warrior queen, you took blows that would have knocked a lesser being (and by that I mean the vast majority of Pharoah Bloomberg’s serfs) down for the count and you found the will to stay in the fight. Assailed’s knack for language could even improve a Walcott missive, but the writing becomes truly inspired when writing about the truly inspiring.

  7. 😉 thank you… And I had a good support system!

  8. Thank you everyone for checking this story and for the kind words for Christine, and for me.

  9. I have been meaning to do this for a long time, but have been so engulfed in my own battle. I am sharing on my blog now.

  10. Pingback: 6-0 Judges for Christine [from Assailed Teacher] | Educator Fights Back

  11. Great reporting. You fill in some of the missing links and expose the DOE. Attending the Portelos hearings I can see the same attempts to use character destruction when they don’t have a case. Here’s hoping the hearing officer is no Randi Lowett.

  12. Good Morning,

    I’m a former NYC teacher that was terminated after my participation in OWS. I recently won my appeal before the State Supreme Court.

    When you read my decision please keep in mind that not everything that is referred to in this decision is true, but what the arbitrator, Glanstein, that terminated me, believed was true. I also have my side of each event that was pretty much ignored in her decision.

    The State Supreme Court overturned her decision based almost entirely on the third set of charges, and now the DoE is appealing this decision to the State Supreme Court Appellate Division.

    It could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to get a final decision. Meanwhile, I have a one year old and a seventeen year old to support, and no job. My unemployment insurance was terminated last December at the request of the DoE.

    I’m sure you can see the political dimension of my case though by reading between the lines. All of these charges were brought after my involvement in OWS. This lasted from Sept. 2011 until January 2012, at which point I decided to scale back my activism in order to preserve my career and family.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and share widely as you see fit. This is a public record.

    David Suker
    US Army Veteran, Infantryman
    14 year veteran DoE Teacher
    Teachertrouble@aol.com
    347-515-1244

    PS The UFT did a minimal job in defending me and actually sabotaged my case at certain points telling me I should resign instead of fighting these charges. My NYSUT lawyer’s name was Steve Friedman. They are currently not even helping me, but they have wished me good luck in my future endeavors!

    http://statecasefiles.justia.com/documents/new-york/other-courts/2013-ny-slip-op-31694-u.pdf?ts=1375376222

  13. Incredibly well written thanks for bringing it to us. And Christine you are a warrior queen and then some. These cretins get away with this stuff because they rarely run into a Christine Rubino with her sleeves rolled up for battle. What a world this would be if our careers were hinged on wisecracks we make to our so called friends on Facebook. I am sorry for the hardships you and the kids have endured and I too encourage you to take every bloody penny they have. Glad you are back on the payroll and looking forward to your return to the classroom. Much love, respect, strength and peace to all my NYC brothers and sisters. You set a strong example for the rest of us.

  14. Pingback: What if They Were Teachers? | Assailed Teacher

  15. A long drawn out and expensive legal battle is the only way to win a fair decision when we have pusillanimous union leaders between us and the underhanded legal team of the DOE. Thank you, Christine for being one of the few teachers to stay the course. I have followed your case from the beginning and have shared in the outrage. I imagine you want back in a classroom, but getting you back on payroll and beating these bastards at their own game is truly a victory for you and your attorney. I hope others are inspired by your persistence….and remain dogged in their pursuit of truth and justice (cue Superman theme song).
    Roseanne, Bronx public school teacher

  16. congrats christine im glad you got your job back keep fighting. a friend of mind is going through a similar situation. betsy is helping her

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