VCSD files for dismissal of Baron lawsuit

Enterprise file photo – Michael Koff

The Voorheesville Central School District on May 10 filed a motion to dismiss five of six claims made in a lawsuit by Robert Baron, pictured, the former varsity girls’ basketball coach.

VOORHEESVILLE – The school district here is seeking to dismiss five of six claims made in a lawsuit by Robert Baron who resigned as the varsity girls’ basketball coach on Nov. 21, 2017.

Baron’s March 6 suit claims the district fraudulently induced him to resign and he seeks reinstatement as coach as well as payment for lost wages and damage to his reputation.

On May 10, the district, represented by William Nolan and Beth Bourassa of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany, submitted a memorandum to the Albany County Supreme Court stating that Baron’s “own decision to resign” is not reviewable as an Article 78 proceeding, filed by citizens challenging government decisions.

Further, the memorandum states that Baron’s claim he should be covered by a collective bargaining agreement is “frighteningly dishonest.”

The Supreme Court is the bottom tier of the state’s three-tiered court system.

The only claim that the district’s motion does not seek to dismiss is Baron’s quest for lost coaching wages, citing the state’s Human Rights Law. His suit alleges the district has a pattern of terminating coaches after age 60. Baron was 67 when he resigned.

Baron’s resignation, after 10 years as varsity coach, was unanimously accepted by a quorum of the Voorheesville School Board at an early-morning special meeting on Nov. 21, 2017. The board then appointed Andrew Karins, the girls’ junior-varsity coach, as head coach. This season, the team won its 11th sectional title.

Baron’s suit alleged that there was a “retaliatory scheme” to oust him because one of the 10 players on the team was not allowed to play in a game — following team rules for missed practices — and might not be selected as captain.

Further, the suit alleges that the district preferred a teacher to have the coaching position, which it calls “unfair favoritism.”

Baron’s lawyer, Harold D. Gordon, told The Enterprise that the district’s motion was a standard and anticipated legal maneuver, and said: “We feel very confident our responding papers will demonstrate that the relief the school district is seeking in its motion will not be granted.”

Also named in the suit are the Board of Education of the Voorheesville Central School District; the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association; Kathleen Fiero, in her capacity as president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association; and New York State United Teachers.

The district’s motion states that Baron resigned as girls’ varsity-basketball coach, “after being notified that he would otherwise be terminated from his position due to complaints made against him by students and parents.”

Claims VCSD​ seeks to dismiss

Following is a description of the actions Baron sued for that the district is seeking to dismiss:

– Declare that the district fraudulently induced him to tender his resignation as the girls’ varsity basketball coach:

A declaratory judgement defines the legal relationship between parties and their rights in the matter before the court, according to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School; it states the court’s opinion regarding the exact nature of the legal matter without requiring the parties to do anything.

Baron, according to the district, is seeking “nothing more than an empty declaration characterizing the context of his decision to resign from his coaching position.” His claim “does not seek any accompanying or related relief that would serve any practical end, stabilize any relationship, or resolve any future dispute.

On being fraudulently induced to resign, the district states that Baron’s “only apparent objective in asserting this claim is to obtain judicial recognition of what he believes happened to him”;

– Nullify and invalidate his resignation as well as the district’s acceptance of his resignation, and reinstate him as coach:

In New York State, an Article 78 proceeding is a device for challenging and reviewing an administrative action in court.

The district states this claim should be dismissed for three reasons: First, Baron resigned, so there is no administrative action to review; second, under New York law, once a district accepts an employee’s resignation, it is permanent unless it is shown to be involuntary, which according to the the filing, “New York courts have only deemed employee resignations to be involuntary under very narrow circumstances, which are not present here”; and third, Baron would have lost his job whether or not he chose to resign, “and whether or not any misrepresentations were actually made to him as he claims. The District cannot be subjected to liability for threatening to exercise its right to terminate Baron from his position”;

– Declare that Baron is covered by the collective bargaining agreement that the district has with the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association, and is entitled to certain protections; and

– Award him damages for separate breaches (evaluation and grievance procedures, claims five and six in the lawsuit) of the collective bargaining agreement for damages to his reputation:

A month after stepping down, Baron attempted to rescind his resignation and, for the first time, the district says, claimed to be a member of the Voorheesville Teachers Association, and was therefore subject to the grievance procedures in the union’s collective bargaining agreement, according to the district’s filing.

The district and New York State United Teachers, in a separate motion seeking dismissal of all claims against the union defendants, state that Baron was never a member of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association; that he never paid union dues or agency fees, and never sought assistance from the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association prior to submitting his irrevocable letter of resignation, according to the NYSUT filing.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for NYSUT, said of Baron’s claim of union membership in his lawsuit: “You never want to say this is unprecedented, because there might be some case from 50 or 60 years ago, but certainly a case like this is highly unusual, very rare.”

Korn added that Baron had no union membership card, had never paid dues, and never attended a union meeting. “The union owes him no duty of representation,” he said.

The school district’s superintendent, Brian Hunt; Doreen Saia, the board of education president; and Kathleen Fiero, VTA president, declined to comment. Baron could not be reached.


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