Court Rules School District’s Residency Requirements Are Valid and May Be Enforced
The New York State Court of Appeals recently was faced with making a determination as to the validity of a residency policy enacted by a local school district. The Niagara Falls Board of Education has enacted a residency policy requiring teachers and staff members to be residents of the City of Niagara Falls within one year from the date of hiring. In three separate instances, teachers and other employees were believed to have lived outside of the school district. The Court of Appeals made a determination in each separate instance and determined that the applicability of the residency policy is valid. Whether an employee has complied, however, must determined on a case-by-case basis.
In the first case, a computer operator had worked for the Niagara Falls City School District for over 15 years. The employee had executed a residency compliance form verifying that she resided in the city limits. Information, however, came to the attention of the district that she was using a city address for mailing but residing out of the city limits. The district conducted private surveillance and felt it had sufficient evidence to terminate her employment. The teacher commenced an Article 78 proceeding seeking to set aside the determination of her termination. The New York State Supreme Court transferred the case to the Appellate Division, which annulled the determination by the board (although it also noted that Supreme Court should not have transferred the matter). On review, the Court of Appeals felt that the Board of Education had clear and convincing evidence to justify her termination and therefore reinstated her dismissal.
In the second and third cases, both teachers resided in an adjacent county at the time of hire. Both understood that they were to move within six months according to the contract they signed. Both allegedly obtained apartments in the City of Niagara Falls but investigation revealed that they did not leave for work or arrive after work to the city addresses, although they both had proof of leases/rent payment, etc. In both cases, the lower court felt that the decision to terminate each teacher was without sound basis and the teachers were prejudiced with not being able to submit to a pre-termination hearing. Surprisingly, on appeal to the Appellate Division, the second case was reversed and the termination was upheld as valid; while in the third case, the decision was affirmed and the teacher was allowed to stay.
On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the court found that the district’s decisions regarding termination were proper and in accordance with the residency policy. A residency policy is a “condition” of employment — thus, it is not subject to a pre-termination hearing. A residency policy does not involve job performance, misconduct, or competency. It is a valid policy that a district may enforce to encourage city employees to work within its borders, and it is a tool that may be used by school districts and municipalities to make sure their employees become involved with the city in which they live.
The case is Matter of Beck-Nichols, Adrian and Luchey v. Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Niagara Falls, et al., ____ A.D.3d ____ (N.Y. Court of Appeals, decided February 19, 2013).
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