NYC School Safety Agents' Lawsuit: Newtown Is Happening Every Day

School safety agents lawsuitAfter the Newtown, Conn., massacre, some have called for more school safety agents inside schools. But a group of 5,000 school safety agents in New York City have filed an explosive $35 million class action suit, alleging that they're paid less than other safety agents in the city, despite being exposed to gang violence, prostitution and drugs.

"It's like Newtown is happening every day in the schools, but in slow motion," said James Linsey, the attorney for the agents.

The lawsuit, initially filed three years ago (Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd pictured above signing the suit), alleges that the mostly female agents who staff public schools have been paid significantly less than their mostly male counterparts who work in hospitals, homeless shelters, and laboratories. According to Linsey, the school agents' salary caps at $35,000, while other city safety agents have salaries up to $42,000. The union brought up the disparity during contract negotiations in 2008, and threatened to sue if it wasn't remedied.

"The city's response was, 'So sue us,'" says Linsey. "So we did."

Over the last six months, the city has taken the testimonies of 135 school safety agents, who have recounted the darker horrors ravaging the city's schools, including gangs smuggling weapons into them and middle school girls selling sex for $1.

The New York Daily News read through excerpts of the transcripts, and reported some highlights:

• At DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, agents keep a locker stuffed with confiscated weapons in the dean's office, school safety agent Deserie Wilson testified. A butcher knife, homemade slings and an improvised bat are among the weapons Wilson and her fellow unarmed agents collected from students.

• At Junior High School 190 in Queens, the gangs were so powerful that one female student was compelled to have sex with 17 boys, sometimes at school, and become a gang member, safety agent Rosemary Scott testified. Safety agents and school staffers were unable to stop the humiliating process that left the girl under the control of the Bloods, a gang that terrorized the school, Scott said.
• Girls from Intermediate School 172 in Harlem sold oral sex for a dollar -- and a classmate was their pimp, school safety agent Shakima Jones-Washington testified in October.

The school district wouldn't comment on specific allegations, but said crime in schools is actually down.

School safety agents are unarmed trained employees of the New York City Police Department, and tasked with ensuring "the safety of students, as well as faculty and visitors" in the city's public schools.

Given their role as children's first line of defense, Linsey said their pay grade was particularly worrying. He claims Eleyna Konstan, a senior official at the Department of Education, quotes the turnover rate as 50 percent.

"The case, it really highlights the twin evils of 2013, and that's safety, school safety, and the second is unequal pay, for women doing the same job as men," explains Linsey. "Here you have a lawsuit that centers on both of them."

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