NYC Kindergarten Teacher, 80, Sues Over Firing

Teacher argues she should have taught grade that didn't require supervision to use the bathroom.

By Jennifer Peltz
|  Wednesday, Aug 3, 2011  |  Updated 7:32 AM EDT
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She was teaching kindergarten at 80, but Lillie Leon wasn't ready to close the classroom door on her career.

But school administrators made her job unworkable by assigning her to a room that forced her to shepherd her entire kindergarten class to a distant bathroom on a bad knee, then engineered her firing after she complained, she said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The city Education Department declined to comment. The city Law Department said it was reviewing the suit, which seeks to reverse Leon's recent firing.

Though school officials said she was insubordinate, she contends their real problem with her was her age, said her lawyer, Stewart L. Karlin. The city doesn't have a mandatory retirement age for school teachers.

"They were trying to force her out. That was their mission, to create an unpleasant working environment," Karlin said.

Leon's problems started when she was assigned last fall to a Queens kindergarten classroom without its own bathroom, her suit said. Some other kindergarten rooms have attached restrooms.

She had to usher all her 25 pupils through the school, sometimes including its lunchroom, whenever one of them had to go to the bathroom, the suit said. She felt that wasted classroom time and wasn't safe for the children, since her walking problems are severe enough that she had been given the use of an elevator and a parking spot near the school's entrance, according to the suit.

She asked for a classroom aide and had one for a time, but then the aide was removed without explanation, the suit said.

After she complained, she was assigned a room on the third floor — equally problematic because she wouldn't have been able to flee if a fire forced her to use the stairs, the suit said.

The principal then ordered a "humiliating" psychological examination to determine whether she was fit for teaching — which she passed — and then gave her an educationally "unsound" assignment teaching pupils in the cafeteria, the suit said.

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