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Cooper Erving & Savage LLP Helps Former Athletic Director to Settle First Amendment Lawsuit Against Averill Park School District for $567,500

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Phillip G. Steck, Attorney
March 19, 2008 (Cooper Erving & Savage LLP)
518-449-3900
psteck@coopererving.com

FORMER ATHLETIC DIRECTOR SETTLES FIRST AMENDMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST AVERILL PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR $567,500

Lou Cioffi served as Athletic Director of the Averill Park Central School District from 1981 to 2002. The School District terminated his employment, claiming it was saving money by combining his position with another. Cioffi was the only person who lost his job as a result of the alleged reorganization.

In July 2002 Cioffi filed a lawsuit against the School District in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Cioffi asserted that he had been fired for complaining to the School Board concerning how the School District had handled a severe hazing incident which occurred in the football locker room. A public employee, such as Cioffi, cannot be terminated from employment, or have his job eliminated, for speaking out on a matter of public concern.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Cioffi’s had spoken out on a matter of public concern. For example, the hazing incident was widely reported in both the print and TV media. Cioffi was one of the administrators who uncovered the hazing incident. For years, he had warned against certain practices in the football program, including use of performance enhancing substances.

The School District had asked the United States Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court decision in favor of Cioffi. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

On March 17, 2008, after five years of litigation, the School District settled the lawsuit for $567,500.

Cioffi’s attorney, Phil Steck, said: “The School District fought this case tooth and nail for years, even taking it to the United States Supreme Court. But Lou Cioffi had the strength to persevere and, I am most happy to say, in the end achieved justice. Even a schoolboy should know that it is wrong to retaliate against a person for expressing his views.

This is a clear case of a man illegally forced from his job. Lou is to be congratulated for having the courage to speak out and to defend his right of free speech in Court.”

Cioffi’s reputation was such that he was able to obtain replacement employment. He is now Athletic Director at the Cornwall Central School District in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.

Former Employee Obtains Judgment

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Phillip G. Steck, Attorney
May 11, 2007 (Cooper Erving & Savage LLP)
449-3900
psteck@coopererving.com

FORMER EMPLOYEE OBTAINS JUDGMENT
AGAINST LAKE PLACID CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Angela Heroux worked as a part-time cashier/clerk for the Lake Placid Central School District. She spoke out against the school budget at a meeting of the Board of Education on May 9, 2006. Superintendent Ernest Stretton reacted angrily to Mrs. Heroux’s speech, He replied:

“It’s despicable. To sit here and read that garbage and implicate this board is despicable. If you don’t like it, you can pack your bags and leave. This is not about the budget; this is about a disgruntled employee.” Shortly thereafter, her employment was terminated.

On June 30, 2006, Mrs. Heroux filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York stating that Mr. Stretton and the Board of Education had violated her rights under the United States Constitution by retaliating against her for her speech on the school budget. The First Amendment prohibits the government from penalizing someone who simply has exercised her right as a citizen to speak out on matters of public concern. The lawsuit sought damages against the Lake Placid Central School District under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which was enacted to prevent local and State government from violating the Federal Constitutional rights of citizens.

Today, the Lake Placid Central School District consented to allow judgment to be entered against it in the lawsuit in the amount of $69,000. This concludes the lawsuit.

Phillip G. Steck, of Cooper Erving & Savage LLP, in Albany, New York, Ms. Heroux’s attorney, commented: “I am very happy for Angela. By allowing judgment to be taken against it, the School District and the Superintendent are admitting that they acted wrongfully. She should feel vindicated.” The amount of the judgment reflected the fact that Mrs. Heroux was only a part-time employee of the School District.

Mrs. Heroux added: “This has been a very difficult situation for me and my family. I would never want anyone to go through what we have in this small town. No taxpayer should ever be penalized for asking questions, speaking their mind, or wanting accountability from their elected officials.”

Mrs. Heroux explained why she accepted the amount of the judgment. “The best thing to do is put this behind me and move on. My goal was never to go through years of litigation.” Mrs. Heroux, who has a child in the Lake Placid Central School District, saw her acceptance of the judgment as in the whole community’s best interest. “One person’s vindictiveness has caused much distress. That attitude is counterproductive. The goal is to make sure the community carefully watches every dollar that is spent and properly provides for the students in our schools and the families and neighbors who struggle each day to make ends meet in the North Country.”

Cooper Erving & Savage LLP Wins Significant First Amendment Appeal in Federal Court

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 5, 2006
Contact: Phillip G. Steck, Attorney
(Cooper Erving & Savage LLP)
518-449-3900
psteck@coopererving.com

FORMER ATHLETIC DIRECTOR PREVAILS ON APPEAL OF FIRST AMENDMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST AVERILL PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT

Lou Cioffi served as Athletic Director of Averill Park from 1981 to 2002. The School District terminated his employment, claiming it was saving money by combining his position with another. Cioffi was the only person who lost his job as a result of the alleged reorganization.

In July, 2002, Cioffi filed a lawsuit against the School District in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Cioffi asserted that he had been fired for complaining to the School Board concerning how the School District had handled a severe hazing incident which occurred in the football locker room.

The hazing incident was widely reported in both the print and TV media. Cioffi was one of the administrators who uncovered the hazing incident. For years, he had warned against certain practices in the football program, including use of performance enhancing substances.

The District Court dismissed the case but, today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated the lawsuit. The Second Circuit held that Cioffi was exercising his right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. “In both the letter and press conference, plaintiff addresses two issues that are of paramount interest to a community faced with a hazing incident in its schools: first, how the School District allowed such an incident to occur and, second, how the School District conducted its investigation into the hazing. . . . As painful and embarrassing at it may be to defendants, the public has a pointed interest in obtaining information not only about the fact of the hazing, but also the possible administrative failures that allowed it to occur.” The Second Circuit noted that Cioffi’s speech in no way disrupted the school’s operation.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the School District’s claim that its motivation for eliminating Cioffi’s position was financial. “[B]ased on the facts viewed most favorable to Cioffi, the Board decided to abolish his job ‘despite the fact there was no real fiscal crisis’ . . . . These facts call into question the allegation that the School District had in fact achieved a net savings by abolishing Cioffi’s position.”

Cioffi’s attorney, Phil Steck, said: “I am thrilled for Lou; he really feels vindicated. The District tried to make him a scapegoat when he acted at all times in the best interest of the health and safety of students.” Steck also thanked his co-counsel on the appeal, Tom Marcelle, for his assistance.

The full text of the decision is available at http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/.