Teacher sues Philadelphia School District for wrongful termination

Jon Campisi May 10, 2011, 4:13pm

A former city school teacher is suing the School District of Philadelphia for what he alleges was a wrongful termination.

Attorney Daniel McElhatton, of McElhatton Foley P.C., filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of city resident Harry Drake May 9 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in February 2009 when Drake, then a carpentry instructor at the A. Phillip Randolph Career Academy, attempted to videotape several of his students as they allegedly acted out in class, according to the complaint.

Drake resorted to the video camera only after having prior witnessed students engaging in safety violations in the shop area of the classroom, making inappropriate outbursts, and sexually harassing other students, the lawsuit states.

When Drake turned on the camcorder, two students attempted to grab the device and proceeded to physically assault the teacher, according to the complaint.

Drake called for help, but when school police officer Carolyn Carter, also named as a defendant in the suit, arrived at the classroom, she demanded Drake’s camera and began questioning instead of assisting him, the lawsuit claims.

Drake was also questioned by Jane Gilmore, assistant principal of the A. Phillip Randolph Career Academy and another defendant in the suit.

Drake was removed from school the day of the incident, and soon was ordered to report to the district’s West Regional Office, where he was held until the end of the school year, according to the lawsuit.

In March, the suit states, Drake was denied the opportunity to participate in an investigatory “conference” at the West Regional Office concerning the incident; his union representative was also denied such participation. In May, Drake was informed that he could no longer teach for the district because his certification lapsed, something Drake claims occurred because he was prevented from completing his required teaching hours. In June he was terminated.

The lawsuit claims that Drake had his due process rights violated, as well as his right to free expression and association. The lawsuit also alleges defamation and wrongful termination.

The plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 for each of the four counts contained in the lawsuit, for a total of $200,000.

The defendants in the case are the School District of Philadelphia, The School Reform Commission, Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, School Police Officer Carolyn Carter, A. Phillip Randolph Career Academy Assistant Principal Jane Gilmore and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

The plaintiff has demanded a jury trial.

The case number is 110501051

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