A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Hempstead schools Superintendent Shimon Waronker’s lawsuit against the district, three members of the school board and the district clerk.
U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley granted the district’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which Waronker filed in federal court in Central Islip a year ago, challenging the board’s Jan. 9, 2018, vote placing him on paid administrative leave while it investigated his actions as schools chief.
Waronker alleged his right to free speech had been violated and that he was being punished for speaking out on corruption and mismanagement in the nearly 8,000-student district. He also claimed breach of contract and that his right to due process before being disciplined had been violated.
Hurley, in his 18-page decision, wrote that Waronker was speaking as an employee, so his First Amendment rights had not been violated. Because Waronker was suspended with pay, he was able to follow proper procedures, and his contract was not breached, according to the judge's decision.
The district continues to pay Waronker his $265,000 annual base salary and benefits. His contract extends until June 30, 2021.
“Notwithstanding the deeply troubling allegations brought against the School District and the Board, both with regards to their conduct toward Plaintiff as well as the long history of apparent corruption and neglect in the discharge of their duties, this is a Court of limited jurisdiction and the Plaintiff has not set forth any actionable federal claims,” Hurley wrote.
School board President LaMont Johnson, who was named as a defendant, said in a statement that he was pleased that “the court agrees that the plaintiff's allegations are meritless and fail to state a claim and that the lawsuit brought against the district is finally dismissed.”
“We will continue to vigorously defend our school district and community against meritless lawsuits and continue to focus on always putting our students first,” he said.
Waronker's Hempstead-based lawyer, Frederick K. Brewington, said Wednesday night he “will be taking a careful look at the Court’s reasoning and making appropriate determinations on the proper course to be taken.”
“Some very wrong actions have been taken against Dr. Waronker, and we remain committed to seeing that our client’s rights are vindicated and that the law be fully and properly applied,” Brewington said in a statement.
The school board, in an internal labor action in August, brought extensive charges against Waronker, alleging misconduct, bid-rigging and sham hiring, among other accusations. In October, the board filed amended charges, which have not been made public.
Brewington, who released the August charges against his client, has called them “false and contrived to mask the real issues that Dr. Waronker was in the process of helping the district solve."
Waronker remains on administrative leave. Under his contract, he is entitled to a hearing. No date has been set for any proceedings.
Waronker, an administrator with a reputation for turning around low-performing and violent New York City schools, began working in Hempstead on June 2, 2017. The district, which is the largest K-12 system in Nassau County, has struggled for decades with low test scores, graduation rates and factionalism among board members.
In fall 2017, relations soured between Waronker and a few members of the board, who criticized the district's awarding of a $450,000 contract to the now-defunct New American Initiative, a Brooklyn-based consulting firm he helped found.
The board, after a shift in its majority, voted 3-2 placing Waronker on leave. Trustees Johnson, David Gates and Randy Stith, who were named in the lawsuit, voted in favor of his removal.
At a news conference last week, Waronker strongly disputed the charges the board lodged against him, calling them “little more than fiction.”
"We intend to win and we intend to be reinstated, so that we can do the work," Waronker said then.
Jonathan Scher, a Carle Place-based attorney who represents the district and the board, said Wednesday he was pleased with the judge’s decision. Brewington “literally ‘made a federal case’ out of facts that did not support a claim in federal court. We told him so," he said. “This was a misguided lawsuit from the beginning. It should have been dismissed."