Locust Valley school district ordered to arbitrate over compensation recovery in sex abuse case
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A Nassau County judge has ordered the Locust Valley school district to arbitrate with its teachers union over the district's attempt to recoup compensation paid to a teacher who was convicted last year of sexual abuse.
The Locust Valley Central School District has sought the return of all compensation paid to former music teacher John E. Benstock during his employment from November 2000 until Feb. 25, 2013.
Benstock, 50, of Bayville, pleaded guilty in February 2013 to sex abuse charges after admitting that he forced young students to play games in which some of them touched him inappropriately through his clothes.
Under a plea agreement, he was sentenced to 6 years' probation and lost his teaching license. He also must register as a Level 1 sex offender for at least 20 years.
The district, in legal papers before Supreme Court Justice Thomas Feinman, alleges that Benstock should be required to forfeit the compensation "by reason of his egregious acts of disloyalty, disobedience, fraud and other misconduct, and pay costs to the school district for all costs associated with the investigation concerning misconduct."
School officials declined to comment Friday. Data that Newsday obtained from the New York State Teachers' Retirement System shows that Benstock earned a total of $423,744 since 2010, the earliest year that figures were available, including $119,874.40 in 2012 -- the last year he received a full year's salary.
The school district initiated the action against Benstock under New York's "faithless servant doctrine." This legal principle requires employees who are "disloyal" to their employers to forfeit some or all of their compensation, a concept referred to in other contexts as "clawbacks," according to the American Bar Association.
The teachers union, however, argued that the district's attempt to litigate the "faithless servant doctrine" deprives Benstock of his benefits, and its request for forfeiture of his compensation falls within the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union and Locust Valley schools.
The district's action to retroactively take Benstock's compensation, the union said in legal papers, represents an "attempted clawback of compensation from a former unit member," which violates provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.
Attorneys for the district said in their filing that arbitration with the teachers union should not occur, because Benstock no longer was a union member when he resigned, and that the action against him is a private matter that falls outside the scope of the collective bargaining agreement.
Feinman, in his decision, said the teachers union demonstrated a "reasonable relationship" between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the collective bargaining agreement.
"It has been held that issues such as a school district's relationship to retired or discharged employees and the question of whether such former employees are covered by the grievance procedure are for the arbitrator to decide," he wrote in the decision, dated July 1.
The teachers union is represented by an attorney from the New York State United Teachers' Office of General Counsel. Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, said Friday, "We are pleased with the decision. It was a ruling that we sought, and we believe the collective bargaining agreement and the statute are the best vehicles for addressing this issue."