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Fired East End teacher regains job after winning lawsuit

Anthony Claudio, 51, will be reinstated to the

Anthony Claudio, 51, will be reinstated to the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District after winning a discrimination lawsuit. (Aug. 9, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

A North Fork high school special-education teacher who sued after being fired in 2009 must be rehired because of age discrimination, a federal judge has ruled.

The decision clears the way for Anthony Claudio, 51, to resume his eight-year career in the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district.

"Discrimination is a form of bullying and that's something they are always trying to fight against" in school, Claudio said.

In October, a federal jury awarded Claudio $70,000 in back pay after finding that the district engaged in age discrimination. The jury rejected his additional claim of gender bias.

Claudio's attorney, Frank J. Blangiardo of Cutchogue, had argued that his client was discriminated against because when he was fired, almost all the other special-education teachers were young women, many of whom had been tenured.

In July, U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco in Central Islip denied the district's appeal of the October verdict. He ordered the reinstatement during an Aug. 1 hearing, records show.

Bianco gave the district time to decide whether to rehire Claudio for an open fifth-grade teaching position or find another way to reinstate him.

"I don't think it's a good situation . . . for me to be micromanaging the district's decision on which teachers are best suited for which particular positions," Bianco said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Smithtown attorney Yeltje DeJong, representing the district, argued that Claudio isn't qualified to be an elementary school teacher because his only experience at that level was as a substitute. She added that Claudio has not been fully trained to teach the Common Core curriculum that now is required.

"The thought of putting a man in fifth grade where he hasn't had any experience and he hasn't had any training is frightening," DeJong said in court.

McKenna on Friday said the district would not comment on the decision "because we haven't seen a written judgment from the court."

Claudio, who has been managing the bar at his family's Greenport restaurant, said he'd accept the fifth-grade position but would prefer his former job at Mattituck-Cutchogue Junior Senior High School.

"I loved my kids," the Mattituck resident said. "It's a wonderful feeling to know you helped educate kids. They say, 'Hey, thanks for all your advice, I really used it.' "

Blangiardo said Claudio is entitled to the same seniority he had before his dismissal, and should also be compensated for lost Social Security payments.

Bianco ruled that Claudio must be reinstated in a probationary position and did not require the district to grant him tenure.

In his July 24 ruling rejecting the district's appeal, the judge said there was evidence that the superintendent "initially agreed the plaintiff should receive tenure, but he then decided not to grant tenure, electing instead to terminate the plaintiff's employment."

Several witnesses at the trial, including two school board members, believed Claudio's performance merited his becoming tenured.

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