Pro se school administrator wins breach of contract appeal

I am always impressed when a pro se litigant wins an appeal against a counseled defendant. In this case, a pro se school administrator wins her breach of contract appeal in the Second Circuit.

The case is Williams v. Buffalo Public Schools, a summary order issued on December 12. Williams sues for breach of contract. The school board terminated her employment, claiming she did not properly maintain her professional certifications, as required under the employment contract. But this case demonstrates how breach of contract cases are not so easy. Yes, Williams did not have the appropriate New York certification. But, she alleged in the complaint, she had professional certificates from Oklahoma and Florida, and at the time of her interview and hiring, she told defendants that she did not have a valid New York certification. During her first week, she applied for reciprocity from the State Education Department, and she later got a School District Leader Internship Certificate, suitable for a district-wide supervision position.

The Court of Appeals (Lynch, Hall and Carney) reinstates the lawsuit because, while the job posting says candidates must have a permanent teacher certificate and a New York school district administrator certificate, the contract is silent as to these certifications. The lawsuit plausibly alleges that Williams' alternative certifications satisfied the requirements in the contract. We can also plausibly infer that the district waived its right to enforce the contract's New York certification requirement, as plaintiff alleges the district knew she did not have that certification but they hired her anyway. That's waiver, my friends. Although the contract contains a non-waiver clause, state law does not preclude a waiver of contractual rights.

While the breach of contract claim is reinstated, the Court of Appeals affirms the dismissal of plaintiff's defamation claim, stemming from Board member Carl Paladino's statements that the district was "dizzy" for hiring plaintiff, whom he called a "hanger on." Paladino is a well-known loudmouth who ran for governor in 2010. These comments are not assertions of fact and therefore cannot be proven false. Hence, no defamation claim.