Fired Buffalo school administrators Yamilette Williams and Faith Morrison Alexander intend to sue district administrators and board members for what they describe as lies, fraud and “selfish political purposes” associated with their termination early last month.
Williams and Alexander, hired by Superintendent Pamela C. Brown from out of state last summer, are each seeking at least $3 million in damages for loss of future income and for “moving costs and emotional costs.” They also want the courts to grant punitive damages against the district and the Board of Education.
“They’re personally hurt,” said their lawyer, Raymond P. Kot II, of Amherst, “and their careers – at least as public school district administrators – their careers are ruined.”
He said that other school districts won’t even grant an interview to an administrator who admits to being terminated from their position elsewhere.
Williams had been hired as the district’s chief of curriculum, assessment and instruction. Alexander had been hired as one of the district’s chiefs of school leadership, providing direct supervision over schools.
Both were terminated after board members determined in March that neither woman had the proper certifications needed to work as district-level administrators in New York State. They have since left the area and are unemployed, their lawyer said.
Kot said he is filing notices of claim in the district courts of the women’s home states, Georgia and Florida.
Among the claims, Williams and Alexander are accusing the district of fraudulent hiring, breach of contract, defamation of character, libel and slander, Kot said.
Both administrators were fraudulently hired because they were incorrectly led to believe, through the interview and hiring process, that they had the certifications necessary for their positions, the lawyer said.
“They shouldn’t have been hired in the first place,” Kot said.
Williams and Alexander also contend that defamatory comments were made “in particular by board member Carl Paladino and generally by all board members” when they met in closed session April 2 to discuss the future employment of both women before unanimously voting to terminate them.
“We believe Mr. Paladino is the primary person responsible for this,” Kot said. “He is the engine pulling the train for this, so to speak. … He decided to do what was necessary to remove Dr. Brown, and my two clients were innocent victims of this.”
Williams and Alexander also state that despite contract wording nullifying their employment if they “fail to maintain any certifications or qualifications required” of their positions, the district breached its contractual obligations by dismissing them.
They had received internship certificates from the state in March, which they contended was all the certification they needed to keep their jobs. District leaders are generally required to have New York State district leader certification, which neither administrator ever received. But Alexander and Williams named two professors at SUNY Oswego who told them their internship certificates were adequate for district-level employment.
Kot also said there are other examples of administrators, including a New York superintendent, who have been allowed to serve in high-level leadership positions with internship status only.
The district and the board have maintained that neither Williams nor Alexander could fulfill all of their job responsibilities as interns without exposing the district to liabilities.
Buffalo Public Schools spokeswoman Elena Cala said Sunday that district officials have not officially received copies of the notices of claim, which Kot said should arrive early this week.
“Once the district is in official receipt of the document, we will review the claim,” she said.
Both legal notices, which use similar or identical phrasing in many places, state that the district and the board “intentionally inflicted harm on me by terminating my employment contract with Defendants for their own selfish political purposes.”
The board voted to terminate Williams and Alexander on April 2 at Brown’s recommendation after receiving advice from outside counsel Karl W. Kristoff. In both cases, the board approved the terminations while stating that the actions do “not reflect negatively” on the administrators’ competence or contributions to the district.
Brown has contended that she was unaware the administrators did not have the proper certification for their jobs when she hired them last year. Though both women possessed district-level leadership certification in other states, those certifications were not valid in New York.
Kot said that neither of his clients misrepresented her qualifications or certifications to Brown or anyone else.
“It’s our impression she was aware of all the certifications our clients possessed at the time of hiring,” he said. “There was an absolute, clear disclosure process.”
He also said the public should consider his clients’ qualifications and competence in the broader context of their professional work experience at other urban school districts.
“Certification means you can pass a test,” he said. “Certification doesn’t mean you’re going to perform well under a given set of circumstances. And in this case, the circumstances are pretty bleak.”