NIAGARA FALLS – The state’s highest court has come down on the side of the Niagara Falls School Board in cases filed by employees fired for violating the district’s residency rule.
The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Roxanne A. Adrian, a high school English teacher, and Karrie Beck-Nichols, a production control manager in the administration, cannot get their jobs back.
A third case, involving high school guidance counselor Keli-Koran Luchey, was sent back to State Supreme Court in Niagara Falls “for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.” Michael F. Perley, attorney for the school district, said that presumably means Luchey will not get her job back, either.
All three employees were fired at the Sept. 24, 2009, School Board meeting, after reports were received from private investigators hired by the district who tailed their vehicles after work and on weekends.
“The Court of Appeals held the law is enforceable, contrary to what the lower court said,” declared Angelo Massaro, attorney for the School Board.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III had said it was not enforceable in a ruling in favor of Adrian and Luchey in October 2010.
The high court ruled Tuesday that the district doesn’t have to hold a disciplinary hearing, called a 3020a hearing after the applicable section of the Education Law, in order to fire anyone over residency violations. That’s because residency is a condition of employment for all Niagara Falls School District staff.
“The 3020a issue was a real big deal to Adrian and Luchey’s counsel,” Perley said. “That was engineered from the beginning to get to the Court of Appeals.”
Anthony J. Brock of the New York State United Teachers, who represented Adrian and Luchey, could not be reached to comment Wednesday. Neither could Terry M. Sugrue of Buffalo, who represented Beck-Nichols.
Massaro liked another aspect of the 24-page ruling. “They emphasized that the process followed by the board through the eight or nine years of litigation was proper and complied with due process,” he said.
The court found that the district exceeded what it needed to do in terms of warning letters and interviews seeking evidence about where employees actually live.
The residency rule says school district employees who already live in Niagara Falls must stay there and that new hires who don’t live in the city have six months to move in. A six-month extension of that deadline may be granted by the School Board.
Beck-Nichols lived in the Falls when she was hired in 1994, but she and her husband bought a house in Lewiston in 2001 and signed a STAR tax exemption form in Lewiston calling that their primary residence. But she filed forms in 2003, 2004 and 2009 asserting she still lived in the Falls.
Adrian was hired in 2003, when she lived in Williamsville. She was given a six-month extension of the deadline to move into the Falls. She claimed she lived on 73rd Street, but she used her Williamsville address on a state form for permanent teaching certification in 2007.
Luchey lived in North Tonawanda when she was hired in 1999. She claimed to have moved into the Falls in 2000, but investigation found that sometime before 2008, she had moved to Amherst.