Failing the New York State teachers’ exam really paid off — especially for a Queens man who learned this month he’s getting a $2 million windfall over it.
Roughly 5,200 black and Hispanic ex-Big Apple teachers and once-aspiring educators are expected to collect more than $1.8 billion in judgments after the city stopped fighting a nearly three-decade federal discrimination lawsuit that found a certification exam was biased.
It’s the largest legal payout in city history.
As of Friday, 225 people who failed the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test used for teacher licensing from 1994 to 2014 had already been notified they’re getting settlements of at least $1 million, according to an analysis of Manhattan federal court records.
Court rulings found the exam violated civil-rights laws, allowing far more white candidates to pass.
The case is expected to generate hundreds of other future million-dollar awards.
Herman Grim, 64, of Queens, on July 5 was awarded the biggest judgment to date — a jaw-dropping $2,055,383.
It includes $1,583,114 in back pay for time never clocked, lost interest accrued, and other compensation.
Other top winners include Andrea Durant, 62, of Center Moriches on Long Island, who scored $1,976,787, and the estate of the late Kathy Faye Bailey of Queens, who was awarded $1,875,119.
The judgments are based on what the teachers and teacher candidates would have earned had they passed the test and kept working in the city’s public school system.
Typically, the further back they failed the test, the more money plaintiffs are entitled to.
Under an agreement ironed out in November 2021 during then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s final weeks in office, the city agreed to set aside more than $1.8 billion in funds to pay off the plaintiffs through 2028.
But the cost to taxpayers is expected to be significantly higher because they’ll also be footing the bill for many of the plaintiffs to collect pension checks based on time never worked after they reach retirement age, plus their health insurance.
So far, more than $750 million in judgments have been awarded to 2,959 of the 5,200 plaintiffs.
Some judgments are as low as several hundred dollars.
The remaining plaintiffs’ claims are being assessed by a court-appointed special master, who already racked up more than $8 million in fees at taxpayers’ expense.
The city is also on the hook for the plaintiff’s lawyer’s fees, a sum that totaled more than $43 million last year.
The payouts have many critics flabbergasted.
“It’s a struggle to explain how New York City could spend $38,000 a year per kid with such a poor return, but decisions like this really help people understand where all that money’s going,” said Ken Girardin, a fellow and labor specialist for the conservative government watchdog group Empire Center for Public Policy.
When contacted Thursday, Grim said he was unaware he struck gold but confirmed the award the following day with his lawyer.
Grim said he’s in disbelief but the money can’t come fast enough because he’s racked up serious debt on his Queens home and credit cards.
He couldn’t recite examples of why the test was biased.
But Grim recalled hiring private tutors and studying for it during the early 1990s, before failing many times.
“I can’t tell you how many times I took them. A lot! A lot!” he said.
Grim said he opened a preschool business in the mid-1990s but closed it in 2015.
After that, he predominately made a living as a substitute teacher until passing the current certification test last year and going to work as a special education teacher for the city in Harlem.
“I want to stay as normal as possible,” he insisted. “I’m not going to be a millionaire.”
Arthur Goldstein, a recently retired veteran teacher at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, said the former test wasn’t a good indicator of how well candidates would perform in the classroom and the city would’ve been better off resolving the issue decades ago by hiring many of those who sued.
“All this money for nothing – nothing!” he fumed. “I’ve been teaching in … overcrowded classrooms in miserable conditions when we could’ve had more teachers working. Instead, we just have the city paying [money] for no reason at all. It’s ridiculous.”
One Brooklyn principal said the city was “crazy” to settle the case.
“The standards are the standards,” he said. “It shouldn’t be based on what would be easy for blacks or whites. To hire people who are not qualified and change the requirements because a certain group didn‘t pass the test is bulls–t.”
The class-action suit dates back to 1996 when it was filed on behalf of Elsa Gulino and three other teachers against the former Board of Education, which once ran the city’s public schools before it was disbanded by the state Legislature to give that power to the mayoral-controlled Department of Education.
The plaintiffs targeted both the state and city, but an appeals court ultimately let Albany off the hook since the city is the teachers’ employer — even though the city argued it had no control over the testing.
The case has had a winding road through the court system, including repeated trips to appellate courts.
A 2003 trial ended in the city’s favor, but the tests were ruled discriminatory in 2012 by the third Manhattan federal judge to handle the case.
The city Law Department insisted it pursued all legal avenues before finally deciding to bring the longstanding case to a close.
“Over decades, we challenged court rulings holding the city liable for a teacher certification test created and mandated by the state,” said agency spokesman Nicholas Paolucci. “Unfortunately, the city did not prevail against these mistaken court decisions that unfairly burden city taxpayers with costly judgments.”
Joshua Sohn, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the city knew the certification test was discriminatory and failed to evaluate whether a test taker would be a competent teacher.
Despite this, the city “continued to use the test to deny a generation of black and Latino teachers a fair opportunity to be considered for teaching positions and deprived a generation of students of receiving the benefit of having a more diverse teacher population,” he said.
Luz Perez, who walked away with $1,771,190, praised the plaintiffs’ legal team.
“I’m grateful everything was solved,” said Perez, 79, of Queens. “Of course I’m happy.”
GULINO versus NYC BOARD OF EDUCATION
More than 90% of white test-takers passed the 80-question multiple-choice and essay Liberal Arts and Sciences Test between March 1993 and June 1995 — one version of which had questions such as asking teachers to explain the meaning of a painting by pop artist Andy Warhol.
But black applicants on average scored passing grades only 53% of the time, and Latinos had an even lower passing rate, just 50%, according to the lawsuit.
The failures resulted in full-time teachers getting demoted to substitutes and prevented aspiring educators from getting hired.
Some became career subs, others found teaching jobs outside the city, and the rest left the profession.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs brought in experts who testified that much of the discrepancy in scores could be attributed to some of the questions being culturally biased in favor of whites.
In 2012, Manhattan federal Judge Kimba Wood ruled that requiring teachers to pass the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it wasn’t a proper indicator of better-performing teachers.
She sided with the plaintiffs, who said the test had an illegal “disparate impact” on blacks and Latinos and that the city’s school system was liable for making hiring decisions based on its results.
The city argued it was simply following teaching licensing requirements mandated by the state and didn’t have any authority over the tests.
It’s spent decades fighting the case, causing the costs further mount.
Top 10 Payouts to Date:
1-Herman Grim $2,055,383
2-Andrea Durant $1,976,787
3-Kathy Faye Bailey $1,875,119
4-Marthe Cantave $1,826,925
5-Luz Perez $1,771,190
6-Linette Jones $1,695,289
7-Millicent Eke $1,620,989
8-Angela Perez $1,619,346
9-Elizabeth Catlin $1,610,205
10-Maud Pierre $1,543,519
Source: Manhattan federal court records