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Former New York City teacher alleges discrimination

Patricia Cummings, of Farmingville, a former social studies

Patricia Cummings, of Farmingville, a former social studies teacher at a Bronx middle school, during a news conference Thursday in the Garden City office of her lawyer, Thomas F. Liotti. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former New York City public school teacher from Farmingville has filed legal papers against the city and its Department of Education, Mayor Bill de Blasio and media outlets in the city, alleging she has suffered discrimination, defamation and "loss of reputation," leaving her publicly humiliated.

Patricia Cummings, 37, who was a social studies teacher at William W. Niles School-Middle School 118 in the Bronx, was accused of forcing students to lie on the floor during a "slave lesson" in class in January 2018. She was removed from her position at the school the following month and fired last fall.

Cummings is seeking damages of $120 million for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, denials of due process and her civil rights, according to her attorney, Thomas Liotti of Garden City.

Cummings' "reputation as a respected educator has been damaged," reads the summons with notice dated Thursday and filed in state Supreme Court in Riverhead. "Her professional career has been substantially compromised and she has been unwillingly exposed to negative notoriety."

Cummings, at a news conference Thursday at her lawyer's office, said the accusations and related news coverage have left her unable to find another teaching job and destroyed her reputation as an educator.

“Because of everything that has transpired, my name has been tarnished," she said. "I have been blackballed in education and I can’t find a job, and it is all because of what happened."

Liotti said Cummings was falsely accused of being a racist. She was the focus of widespread media attention in the New York Daily News and other city-based media for allegedly telling her students, during a lesson on the Middle Passage, to lie down on the floor in order to have a sense of what it was like to be a slave. She then allegedly placed her knee into the backs of the students in order to give them a sense of the pain endured by slaves.

Cummings has denied that happened and said a witness to her lesson corroborated her account. The middle school principal declined to speak with the witness, she said.

School officials investigated, and Cummings was removed from teaching that class in January 2018. The following month, she was removed from the school and reassigned to a facility she called "teacher jail" in Queens for the remainder of 2017-18 school year. She said she was told she would return to the school last fall but again was assigned to the Queens center and then terminated in October.

Cummings had been a teacher at MS 118 since September 2016.

Doug Cohen, a spokesman for New York City’s education department, said, "Ms. Cummings was terminated based on a thorough investigation and a review of her performance as an educator. We'll review the complaint."

Cummings was exonerated of the allegations following an investigation by the education department's Office of Special Investigations, according to a July letter she received from the department, but she said she continued to face disciplinary action.

“Ms. Cummings is a dedicated and competent teacher, who should never have been subjected to these false accusations, which have damaged her career and her reputation. This is a case of blatant reverse discrimination,” Liotti said.

In September, Cummings brought a notice of claim against the City of New York and its education department making many of the same accusations and seeking $120 million, alleging she had been defamed and her civil rights violated.

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