Riverhead School District

Fired driver says Riverhead School District hasn’t honored agreement

Andrea Diaz says the Riverhead school district hasn’t reinstated her, even though an agreement states she would return by March 2. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
Andrea Diaz says the Riverhead school district hasn’t reinstated her, even though an agreement states she would return by March 2. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

A school bus driver fired last year from her job with the Riverhead district is now accusing administrators there of reneging on a deal that should immediately have reinstated her to her familiar position behind the wheel.

The driver, Andrea Diaz, had filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights after the school board approved Superintendent Nancy Carney’s recommendation to terminate her employment. Over a year later, Ms. Diaz and the district have now reached a settlement, which was approved by the school board at its Feb. 14 meeting.

According to a copy of the settlement, which Ms. Diaz provided to the News-Review, the district agreed to pay her $15,000 in back wages and reinstate her “immediately” upon passing a driving and physical performance test conducted by a “qualified neutral third-party provider.”

But Ms. Diaz claims assistant superintendent Sam Schneider directed her to report to Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Holbrook, where a former Riverhead school bus driver was selected to administer the tests, which she failed.

She said she retook tests March 2 with an examiner from Sunrise Bus Company in Greenport, which she described as a true neutral third party, and passed.

“You can’t say the laws have to be followed and then just do whatever you want,” Ms. Diaz said in an interview.

Ms. Diaz said the president of the district’s local CSEA union, Arlene Chastaine, was present during the exam in Greenport, and  had stated then that Ms. Diaz would be able to return to work. But instead of receiving a start date, Ms. Diaz said the district sent a letter on March 4 — two days after she was to be rehired, according to the settlement — indicating that she also had to pass a section 73 civil service exam designed for reinstated employees.

She has since appealed to a judge in the Division of Human Rights, indicating that her settlement with the school district made no mention of a civil service test.

Neither Ms. Chastaine nor Mr. Schneider returned calls seeking comment for this story.

When asked for comment, Ms. Carney said it would be “highly inappropriate for the district” to offer a detailed response in a personnel matter.

“It is our belief, however, that Ms. Diaz’s concern is with the Suffolk County Department of Civil Service rather than the school district,” she added. “We are required to follow direction given by the department of civil service.”

In her complaint to the state Division of Human Rights, Ms. Diaz alleges she was discriminated against in November 2012, after having shoulder surgery, because she wasn’t given a school bus equipped with an automatic air door, which is opened by pressing a button instead of puling a handle bar. (Ms. Diaz said the district recently switched her old run to an air-door bus.)

She had gone out on worker’s compensation in March 2011 and returned in March 2012 with a doctor’s note saying she needed a bus equipped with an air door.

Ms. Diaz, who now works for Montauk Bus Company, claims that on the last day she worked, Nov. 28, 2012, the district did not allow her to use a bus with an automatic air door, even though such buses were available that day. She insisted she needed bus a with a door activated by a button to facilitate her ongoing shoulder recovery and, when her request was denied, contacted her doctor, who provided a second note stating she couldn’t go back to work until she was given the proper accommodations.

She said then-assistant superintendent Joe Ogeka told her on Dec. 10, 2013, that she’d be fired if she didn’t return to work. She was fired Jan. 14, 2014. Nearly five months later, Ms. Diaz filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights claiming the district wrongfully terminated her.

“I wasn’t able to come back to work — they say I abandoned my job,” said Ms. Diaz, a lifelong Riverhead resident whose three children are students in the district. “There’s a lot of bullying going on.”

Ms. Diaz said she received about $9,000 from her settlement after taxes and hired a lawyer last week because the district hasn’t complied with the terms of the settlement agreement. She and her attorney plan to pursue reinstatement of her position and, through a lawsuit, will also seek punitive damages.

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