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Judge allows lawsuit to proceed

After more than two years, a U.S. judge has ruled against the South Colonie Central School District's motion to dismiss a discrimination case brought on by a former teacher in the district.

The decision, made Tuesday, July 9, by Justice David Hurd, will prolong the case until Helmes and the school district go to trial, which, according to Helmes' attorney, Michael Conway, would happen, the earliest, by the end of the summer.

Helmes' decision to bring a lawsuit against the district began, according to Conway, because she was not offered tenure when returning from maternity leave.

According to Helmes' affidavit, she was employed as an English teacher at South Colonie Central High School from July 2002 to July 31, 2005, during which time she was a probationary teacher. Helmes said that her probationary period was scheduled to end on July 31, 2005, at which time, she anticipated being offered tenure.

In April 2004, I requested a maternity leave. The maternity leave was approved by the board and I began that maternity leave in June of 2004, said Helmes' affidavit. "Prior to my maternity leave, every performance evaluation that I had received (six Formative reports and two Summative reports) ended with a 'top box,' indicating that I was 'making appropriate progress towards tenure.'"

Helmes said in the affidavit that at no point during the time after her maternity leave did anyone who had previously evaluated her say anything about areas in which she needed to improve.

The bulk of Helmes' maternity leave was during the summer months. After giving birth, Helmes said she wished to extend her maternity leave.

After returning from her leave, Helmes was given a "middle box" review after her observation, according to her affidavit, indicating that her progress had declined since returning to work. Conway also said that, according to Helmes, her co-workers attitudes toward her depicted a "sudden change" and that those who were once friendly no longer were.

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