A Freeport woman who got her first teaching job in 2002 at age 56 has established a legal basis for her age-discrimination lawsuit against the North Bellmore school district for denying her tenure, a federal judge has ruled.
Judge Pamela Chen of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn determined music teacher Dania Hall, now 68, had received generally positive job reviews from three principals in the district, but that one school principal gave her a negative evaluation, "premised on seemingly minor and unsubstantiated parental complaints."
The judge, in a decision dated Sept. 26, rejected the school district's request that the lawsuit be dismissed and said it could proceed to trial. Documents showed that all five music teachers granted tenure by the district between 2002 and 2010 were at least 10 years younger than Hall, and that the music teacher who replaced Hall and was granted tenure was 30 years younger, the judge noted.
An attorney representing the district, Gary Dvoskin of Farmingdale, declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said: "We believe the judge's decision is incorrect, and at the time of the trial the proof will show the district did nothing wrong."
The lawyer for Hall, Kevin Grennan of Garden City, said he would not allow her to comment because she would be a witness at the trial, which has not been scheduled. "She's pleased with the decision and looks forward to having her day in court," Grennan said.
Hall earned her bachelor's degree in music education in 2000 and earned a master's degree in music in 2003.
She began work in August 2002 teaching violin, viola, cello and bass at all six elementary schools in the district and conducted the districtwide orchestra, court records show. She became eligible for tenure after three years, but was denied tenure and then fired on June 30, 2005, by the board of education, the records show.
The school district argued the principal at the Newbridge Road School, Marilyn Hirschfield, had received two complaints from parents about Hall during her second year on the job, and one complaint during her third year, the records show. There were no complaints from the principals of the other five schools, the judge noted.
Hirschfield "made no effort to investigate any of these complaints," the judge wrote, and the principal later wrote a negative evaluation of Hall, the ruling said. Hirschfield did not return a telephone message left Wednesday at the school, where she is still principal.
The district failed to conduct an observation of Hall's class work during her first two years and no annual evaluation during her first year, the judge said.
"Had plaintiff received more of the observations and annual evaluations to which she was entitled, those reviews could have negated the substance and weight of Principal Hirschfield's negative observation and annual evaluation," the judge wrote.