Two teacher tenure lawsuits are combined, but not in harmony

Two lawsuits challenging teacher tenure in New York will be consolidated into one, a Staten Island court decided today — even though representatives from one case don’t seem very interested in working with the other.

Thursday marked the first court appearance since each suit was filed earlier this summer. The lawsuits claim that New York law makes it too difficult and costly to fire teachers who are ineffective or incompetent. They also take aim at the “last in, first out” policy which means districts lay off teachers based on seniority, and what they call a too-short period of time before a teacher is eligible for tenure.

Outside the court, Mona Davids, the lead plaintiff in the first case, Davids vs. New York, made it clear that she wasn’t interested in forging a unified effort as she passed out fake $100 bills bearing the grimacing face of Campbell Brown, the news-anchor-turned-activist who spearheaded the second lawsuit, Wright vs. New York.

“It’s our lawsuit,” Davids said. “We filed first.”

But inside the courtroom, Justice Phillip Minardo decided they were similar enough to combine, and neither lawsuit filed an opposition to the motion. He also decided to let the United Federation of Teachers intervene as a defendant, which will allow the city teachers union to take an active role in defending the current job protection rules. (Minardo deferred a decision about whether the state teachers union could intervene as well because of a paperwork issue.)

Tension between the two groups has been evident for months. However, in a statement, Brown said that their view “has always been the more parents, lawyers, and families supporting this effort, the better.” Campbell Brown was not present at the courthouse today, nor were any plaintiffs from the Wright case.

The lawyer who had signed onto Davids’ case, Randy Mastro of Gibson Dunn, the firm involved in the suit that recently struck down teacher tenure laws in California, has asked to be removed from the lawsuit altogether. The justice told him on Thursday to file a formal request.

Justice Minardo said he anticipated motions and counter-motions to be filed in the coming month, including the UFT’s stated plan to request a motion to dismiss the case. Filings need to be made by October 14.

“Work hard,” Minardo said. “Thirty days.”