(CN) – A teacher can take former New York Times CEO Russell Lewis and his family to court for allegedly blocking tenure to influence the outcome of the teacher’s divorce from Lewis’ daughter, a New York appeals court ruled.
Ronald Bruce Posner claims that he was on track to tenure at Siwanoy Elementary, in 2008 when his wife, Erin, accused him of misconduct – having an affair with a student’s mother, who was also a substitute teacher at Siwanoy. Posner and Erin had just had a child, Sydney, days before the couple began divorce proceedings.
Erin’s father, Russell Lewis, and brother, David Lewis, told Posner to leave the marital home, which Russell Lewis owned.
Russell served as president and CEO of the New York Times from 1997 until his retirement in 2004. David, an attorney who resigned from Proskauer Rose in August 2010, also helped to represent his sister, Erin, in the divorce action.
“Russell ‘warned’ … that if plaintiff ‘did not go quietly,’ Russell would ‘make trouble’ for plaintiff,” the ruling states. “Russell also ‘explicitly threatened to go to the Pelham Board of Education and impact [Posner’s] tenure.”
Favoring a so-called “clean break” between Posner and Erin, Russell offered Posner money to relinquish his parental rights to Sydney.
Posner says that when he refused, Erin’s family followed through on their promise to make trouble for him, and the school board eventually denied him tenure.
Posner resigned and sued the Lewis family for tortuous interference.
The Lewises moved to dismiss the lawsuit and appealed when the trial court rejected the motion.
The Manhattan-based first department of the state appeals court upheld the decision, finding the court should deter coercing a parent to relinquish his parental rights
In the court’s majority opinion, Judge Richard Andrias cited how Erin’s brother, David, misled school officials as to his interest in Posner’s tenure when he wrote letters to the New York education department and to Posner’s school district.
“David, who had no connection to the district, stated that the letter was ‘being submitted solely on my own initiative in my individual and personal capacity as a private citizen,'” the ruling states. “He did not disclose his relationship to plaintiff, that plaintiff and Erin were involved in divorce proceedings, or that Erin had retained him.”
Andrias rebuked the Proskauer Rose attorney for his alleged conduct.
“While David holds himself out as an expert in legal ethics, he failed to follow the basic, published guidelines and rules for filing a complaint against a teacher, and did so deliberately with the belief that circumventing the guidelines would expedite the process and increase the possibility of inflicting the maximum amount of injury on plaintiff Posner,” Andrias wrote.
Judges Peter Tom and Nelson Roman dissented from their colleagues’ opinion, finding that the Lewises’ communication with the school board should be privileged and that Posner’s conduct was a matter of public interest.
“It is beyond cavil that a plaintiff’s adulterous relationship with the parent of a child in his class raises a reasonable question as to his moral character and warrants referral to the Education Department,” Tom wrote.
The dissent also called into question Posner’s role in getting substitute teaching work for his mistress.
“Plaintiff’s influencing school officials to hire his paramour as a substitute teacher may adversely affect the students if she is not as qualified as others,” he added.