School district wrongfully set reinstated teacher’s pay, judge rules

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08/15/2014 3:00 PM |
Former Mattituck teacher Anthony Claudio (right) entering the federal courthouse in Central Islip in October 2012 with his attorney, Frank Blangiardo. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)

Former Mattituck teacher Anthony Claudio (right) entering the federal courthouse in Central Islip in October 2012 with his attorney, Frank Blangiardo. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)

A federal judge has ruled that the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District must pay reinstated teacher Anthony Claudio $20,000 more in salary — raising his earnings to where they would be if the district has not fired him in 2009. 

In a judgment filed July 29 in the Eastern District Court of New York, Judge Joseph Bianco ruled that Mr. Claudio, 52, should be entitled to the automatic annual salary increases he would have received had he not been terminated. The judge also stated that the district must make adjustments to Mr. Claudio’s pension accordingly.

In October 2012, an eight-member jury awarded Mr. Claudio $70,000 in back pay at the conclusion of a trial in which it found the district and former superintendent James McKenna liable for age discrimination.

The following summer, Judge Bianco ruled that Mr. Claudio should be reinstated to a teaching position and he began in his new role at Cutchogue East Elementary School last September.

This past April, Mr. Claudio was also awarded $83,447.50 in attorney fees.

The court has now ruled that the district should have paid him for the 2013-14 school year at salary step 9, totaling $79,051, and awarded him $4,160 in court costs.

“Defendant’s reason for not paying plaintiff at step 9 in his new position — that he did not actually work from 2009 to 2013 — is untenable,” Judge Bianco wrote in the decision. “Plaintiff did not work for those four years only because he was terminated unlawfully.”

Mr. Claudio’s attorney, Frank Blangiardo of Cutchogue, described the district’s decision to start Mr. Claudio at $65,000 as “retaliation” and believes the latest ruling sets a precedent.

“Sometimes the wheels of justice take a long time,” he said. “When the teacher gets put back in, because of the Claudio case, they are going to get all of their steps. All of the pension benefits. All of their increases.

“You’ve just got to fight the good fight and take the criticism, take the heat and that’s the way it goes,” Mr. Blangiardo said.

The district’s attorney, Jeltje DeJong of Devitt Spellman Barrett in Smithtown, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

When asked for comment about the court’s latest decision, current district Superintendent Anne Smith said, “We’re going to do what we’re legally bound to do.”

Ms. Smith added that the district is working with the New York State Teachers Retirement System to determine how much it is required to pay in lost pension contributions.

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