Teacher harassed by students gets settlement

Woman says students touched her breasts

NEW YORK (AP) -  

A former teacher at a Brooklyn high school who claimed she was sexually harassed and verbally assaulted by her students has agreed to a $450,000 settlement from the city of New York, her attorney and school officials told CNN.

As part of the settlement, Theresa Reel, 52, resigned from the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn in exchange for having poor ratings on her employment record cleared, her attorney said.

The settlement was reached ahead of a trial that was scheduled to begin earlier this month.

 

"I think we had a very strong case," said attorney Joshua Parkhurst, "but this way my client can go on with her life."

Reel told CNN she was subjected to continuous verbal assaults and sexual harassment by students, who she claimed touched her breasts and wrote insults against her on a desk, shortly after she began working at the school in 2005.

The educator said she reported the students' behavior to the school multiple times, but the principal's response was worse than inadequate.

"I was told I wanted to make the school look bad, I was called a troublemaker," she said. "That was the worst for me: that my employer reacted this way. I felt so worthless."

In May 2008, Parkhurst wrote the New York City Department of Education to complain about the harassment allegations and the school's response, and to ask for compensation. He said his client in some instances had been reprimanded or threatened with discipline if she insisted the school administration take action in response to an incident.

The department responded that in each instance of reported misconduct, the students involved were "disciplined and/or dealt with appropriately," and that no poor job performance marks against Reel were "a result of reporting any incident involving a student."

The department also said that in the course of its investigation, it was advised of an occasion in which Reel "wore a low-cut, V-neck, lace top while teaching one of her classes." The senior counsel wrote that "she should dress in an appropriate manner when working at school and teaching her classes."

Reel said she made multiple requests for a transfer from the school before filing a discrimination lawsuit.

In May of this year, a judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide the case and set the trial date for September 10. The city made its settlement offer before the trial began.

The education department said it does not comment on ongoing lawsuits or settlements, but the New York City Law Department issued a statement saying the agreement was based "on an assessment of the City's best interest in this case, which included obtaining an agreement from the plaintiff to leave the DOE's employment and not seek to be employed by our school system again."

When she took the job at the Brooklyn high school, Reel said, she had already been teaching at the high school level for seven years.

"I am not a 22-year-old without any experience. I know how to handle a class," she told CNN on Friday, but this experience was so bad that it brought her to the brink of suicide.

"Every school year I hoped the situation would get better but it didn't," Reel said. "I just didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was emotionally and physically drained."

Now, she says, she is happy to go on with her life.

"I also hope what I did will empower other school teachers to go forward with similar cases."

Reel said she is "relieved" by the settlement and would like to look for a new job, probably in another state.

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