80-Year-Old Kindergarten Teacher Sues NYC Over Firing From Queens Public School

Lillie Leon Files Lawsuit Claiming Age And Disability Discrimination

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A kindergarten teacher with a squeaky clean record for more than 30 years says she was fired simply because she’s old.

The 80-year-old woman wants her job back, so she’s suing New York City, reports CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez.

Lillie Leon said she’s spent the last 34 years of her life enlightening young minds as a teacher for the city’s public schools.

“No one values the caliber of work that I have performed for those 34 years. It’s like they kicked you to the curb,” Leon said Wednesday.

Leon was fired from P.S. 117 in Queens, and will be spending the school year here at home. According to the New York State Department of Education she was let go in part, for not escorting her kindergarteners to the bathroom — a job requirement.

But Leon thinks she was canned because she’s 80 years old. She’s suing the city for age and disability discrimination.

“I feel like they wanted to force me to retire, by giving me hardship assignments,” Leon said.

The Department of Education filed a complaint accusing Leon of insubordination and neglect of duty. It claims Leon, who struggles to walk with a cane, refused to take her 4- and 5-year-old students to the bathroom.

Leon said she asked the school to assign her to teach first graders, where students wouldn’t need her supervision for bathroom breaks. But Leon said her request was ignored.

Instead, Leon said she was assigned to a kindergarten classroom without a bathroom, forcing her to take on a physical challenge.

“Every time someone has to go to the bathroom she has to take the entire class,” attorney Stewart Karlin said. “It was educationally unsound … and it’s also a safety issue.”

A state arbitrator disagreed and sided with the education department, but Leon is appealing to get back in the classroom.

“That’s one issue that was never raised, her ability to teach,” Karlin said.

“Knowing that I won’t be able to be in the classroom will be heartbreaking,” Leon added.

Leon said she won’t give up her fight. The Department of Education declined to comment on this case.

Do you think Leon should have been fired? Sound off below…

More from Hazel Sanchez
  • a teacher

    “not being in the classroom will be heartbreakening?” Listen to the interview and watch how she moves. If you want to stay in the school volunteer, but being in the kindergarten classroom requires lots of physical energy and even sometimes interacting with physical activities. This just seems like she is afraid of her life without her job. I’m sorry but she needs to go. Yes a lot of young teachers going into the profession are not good, but what about the ones that are and need a job to pay all of those college loans? Give them a chance to be innovative!

  • Ralph

    It’s about time she get out if she can’t walk with the kids then she’s no use to the sytem what if the was a fie in the school how would she get the class out plus her self I think see is and has been over paid and taking tax pays money

  • Sarah

    I’ve seen some of the pieces if sh** that work for the NYC schools, why didn’t they fire them and not this sweet old lady?

  • Lacey Major-Fairgood

    I bet she is a damm good teacher, we need more old school teachers and kids probly love this grandmother type teacher, hire a classroom aide or room mom to help out like most schools do. She needs to take them to court!

  • ahs

    Having to take an entire class to the bathroom every time one child has to go would be stupid even if she weren’t 80 and walking with a cane. Why is there not an assistant teacher? I think that’s the biggest issue here. Elementary schools need two teachers per class. This school needs to hire more teachers, NOT get rid of the good ones they have.

  • HooDatIS?
  • HRLady

    This is a HR issue that must be resolved. She is able to perform the essential functions of her job, which is to TEACH, then it si the responsibllity of the employer to accommodate her request. If her classroom did not have the resource of a bathroom, why couldn’t she be accommodated with a classroom with a bathroom. Pretty simple

    • NorthernSnowBird

      That’s probably why the issue isn’tresolved. It’s too simplefor the educated Administrators to figure out.

  • Alz Heimer

    No Alzheimer’s? Wow. I sure hope I’m still going strong at 80, or remember anything from the past. She’s like the Energizer Bunny…it just keeps on going.

  • Jerry

    All due respect ,It should not have come to this, there should be a retirement age limit.
    Ring out the old and ring in the new. Too Too many young good educators out there in the wings.
    Our education system is in shambles, this is one reason why.

    • Kaylee

      you always need a good example of an older teacher who still believes in the passion of teaching and just want to do their job, collect retirement and hate their students. Makes us younger teachers realize there is a reason to teach! Sure isn’t the money or the time we give up when we are not in the classroom.

    • NorthernSnowBird

      That may be true, but in my 25 years of teaching (now retired), I’ve seen some doddering, tired young teachers just out of college. One just can’t be too sure sometimes. Some teachers have 25 years of experience; some have one year of experience 25 times.

  • Ronke'

    With all due respect, I am sure that many of the comments have come from non-educators, you are entitled to your opinion, but the bias is reeking right through your comments. All praise due to Ms. Leon for fighting for what she believes in. When I had a case with the Dept. of Ed. the attorney had to be virtually carried from a car to the room.

    Ms. Leon, has every right to continue to teach for one more term, if that what she decides to do. If I were the defendants, I would settle this case out of case. As a fellow educator pointed out, you would think these bureaucrats would know that Ms. Leon is entitled to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act vis-a-vis terms and conditions of her employment.

    It is a disgrace that Ms. Leon should have been harassed and humiliated for no other reason than they want her out. Sham, shame, shame

  • Henry

    Well, an 80-year-old teacher is one teacher I don’t want to read in the newspaper that she’s having sex with her students.

  • Bell Toller

    While this 80 y.o. is still teaching the industrial revolution….her students can teach this 80 y.o. something about the technological revolution such as the internet, facebook, iphone and texting/tweeting, etc….

  • Sickofit

    Whatever…she cannot physically do what is required but yet she thinks the tax paid system owes her a break. Thanks for teaching for umpteen million years, you were great – but you cannot supervise 20+ 4 and 5 year olds when you can barely walk with a cane. Retire already.

  • jojo

    She would make more money staying home. With her TDA, pension and SS she is losing money working.
    I don’t feel a 80 year old can care for 20-25 kindergarten children.
    Since when do schools have aids in classrooms to take kids to the bathroom? Not in my school and i have been working for the Bd of Ed for 20 years.

    • adrianna

      She loves teaching and has a clean record. Why can’t she continue as long as she can? She did’nt get fired for being a bad teacher. Americans with Disabilities should intervene and get her job back with restitution and a raise in pay. The Board of Ed. would be able to hire aides in the classrooms if we did’nt have all these illegals. They cost us billions of dollars each year. I don’t understand why any kindergarten class be placed far away from the bathrooms. All those accidents that requires cleanup time. Taking all the children to the bathroom means less time to actually to do her job, TEACH.

  • Bob Fowler

    C’mon now…she’s 80. When she teaches history, she refers Abe Lincoln as the new President. FDR was a sweet kid. She doesn’t take the kids to the bathroom because when she was in school, bathrooms hadn’t been invented.

    I understand the need for dedicated teachers, and passing on wisdom, but does anyone really believe that an 80 year old has the ability to control 20 children in 2011? Parents are always looking for the next lawsuit, and as nice an old lady as she appears to be, they will turn on her in a second, if her age prevents her from doing anything that leads to any incident. It is sad that we must protect ourselves from litigation to this limit, but, when it comes down to it, who do you think is going to pay for the impending lawsuit? WE ARE!!!

    • adrianna

      The Bd. of Ed. never had a problem with her skills as a teacher. Parents never once complained about her. Remember, she has a clean record. She sounds like a dedicated teacher. She’s not teaching for the money. She does it for the pleasure of shaping young minds. Young teachers don’t do anything wrong that parents would sue the school for. Are you kidding? She’s only been fired because of age discrimination and her walking slowly with a cane. Americans with Disabilities Act should be involved with getting her job back. I can’t believe the state arbitrator sided with the school. Are they a bunch of idiots? They just wanted her gone and save money hiring a new teacher that does’nt get paid alot..

    • Amigwyn

      Well apparently SHE CAN!! She was not fired because she wasn’t teaching what was in the curriculum or even because she couldn’t handle rambunctious children. She was let go because she couldn’t walk her entire class to the bathroom when ONE student wanted to go. Sounds like a pretty stupid and VERY unproductive use of time anyway. It makes no sense to disrupt the entire class and bring them all to the bathroom when they don’t have to go.

      She even came up with a solution – teach first grade. Problem solved completely then. But no. The administration wanted to get her out because she probably has more benefits than the principle does. She was a teacher in a time when people valued teachers and they were taken care of financially and for the future. I don’t see this as ANYTHING BUT a force out. They could have at least come up with a better excuse at least. Not something so obvious.

  • Monique

    My child was a kindergardener at PS 117 last year. Most of the kindergarden classrooms had a bathroom, my childs classroom did. Due to overcrowding in the classrooms, the teachers would shuffle the kids from classroom to classroom. . Aside from this matter what the school really needs is teachers who speak Arabic, Spanish, etc. The majority of the children as well as the parents do not speak english. Or they need to offer English as a second language to parents and their children. If you are going to live in this country learn to speak the language.
    I digress, I hope this teacher wins the fight and gets her job back. If not maybe she can teach at a school where they are caring and wont descriminate based on a disability. Many public schools have teachers assistants or aides.

    • Donna Lusciousdc Sayles-Corbin

      If you want to be part of the US system, come prepared. BEFORE sending your non-English speaking child to school. Have them tutored in English. I feel being that our National language is English; we should make no other exceptions. Why? Because if we continue to make exceptions for one language we’re going to have to start making them for all. I personally don’t want to enter a phone tree with 50 billion language choices on it. When in Rome..and all that..

    • jana

      Love your comment. i am an immigrant and worked hard in order to learn the language. If a person wants to live in the USA, please learn English. it is not that hard. My son had a 5th grade teacher that barely could communicate with me and seemed offended when i refused to speak to her in Spanish. I really hope this teacher wins her job back… they are kicking her out because they want to pay much less to a younger teacher… that is all…

    • Bob Fowler

      I don’t mean to sound racist, but when you go to school in China, India, Russia, Germany…do they have multi-lingual teachers in grade school? If you come to America, in search of the American dream, it should start by YOU learning our language, not us catering to you. I don’t think that we as a nation invited the non-English speaking to come here and change our way. Nor do I think that, in these tough economic times, further stressing the system to cater to any special interest group is a good idea.

      • Jen

        I couldn’t agree more. There are resources in the community to help you learn English. Make use of them. There are your equal opportunities. A bridge to help you get to where the rest of us are. Stop wasting our tax payer dollars. I would never move to another country without a basic knowledge of their language and expect them to cater to me on their dime. Why should we?

  • Guest

    So instead of trying to mediate problems and find a solution,they decide to get rid of someone who wants to help kids,and make an embarrassment out of themselves.Its not easy to find good teachers,but it is easy to find solutions to petty things like taking kids to a bathroom.
    At least we know she wont sleep with any of them.

    But seriously,If shes a good teacher they should accommodate her.Really,what teachers take their kids to the bathroom?I only knew of one teacher who did that when I was in school,and he was fired after he put his hands down some kids pants.

  • LG

    I’m ok with it as long as she doesn’t drive to work.

    • Henry

      Or have sex with her students!

    • AB

      LOL totally agree!

  • themadjewess

    This is TYPICAL of Bolshevik NYC-bunch of leftist schmucks putting this older woman that is SPOTLESS out to pasture..
    Conservative people, COME TO AZ!
    We treat the elderly GOOD!

    • allison

      well apparently they cannot teach WELL in AZ

  • Puzzled

    Something is wrong here. Schools have aides to take children to the toilet. Teachers do not drag 20 or more 4 and 5 years old to the toilet over & over & over. That’s a stunt.

    How does she escort children on a fire drill if she can barely walk with a cane?

    Ms. Leon was born about 1930, and began teaching around 1976, a time when “emergency” hirings were common.

    Today a preK-12 teacher needs a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and four state-mandated examinations. Is the school trying to hide a 34 year “emergency” hire?

    • KPMc

      You need two degrees and 4 exams to take 4 year olds to the bathroom and watch them play with blocks?

      You don’t seen anything wrong with that?

      • tallblondes

        Yeah, I see something wrong with it! I see someone who doesn’t value the hard work and dedication of a good kindergarten teacher. They do NOT just watch them play with blocks. When is our country going to wake up and respect and support our teachers again?! As for the school giving her a kindergarten assignment, that’s how they operate. I’m not surprised a bit.

  • Amy in Texas

    Ashamed? Ashamed??? You ever thought maybe she has someone to support at home?
    You should be ashamed!

  • j

    The person or persons who fired this dedicated woman with decades of life and educational experience will one day meet the same fate, because they to will grow old.

  • hottrac

    As an educator myself I understand the demands of the classroom and , I commend Ms Leon for her 34 years of service to the students of NYC. I do believe that it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act to not provide (within reason) assistance to the disabled with tasks that are not essential to their jobs. I believe the main responsibility of a teacher is to educate children; if Ms Leon can still still meet this requirement, then her students can be escorted to the bathroom by another person such as a school aide. If we cannot see this as an injustice then as a society we are headed for demise.

  • Linder

    You know they say that people that call names at others are really guilty of the accusation. Sad,…everyone should have a dedicated teacher like her.

  • bkinblack


  • Wife works for BOE

    OMG, they say she is 80 and has been teaching 30 years…what about her first 50 years…what she do for a living…lets get all the facts stright before this princess of teachers is rehired…

    • now what

      She was a juggler in the circus…happy now

    • Amigwyn

      What if she stayed home and took care of her ailing mother then her grandkids? Should she be rehired then? She has been a teacher for 34 years. Why would her previous job make a difference NOW?? If it was a concern it should have been addressed 34 years ago.

    • j

      You’re talking utter foolishness; as if the past 50 years prior to her teaching matter in this scenario.

  • Apple

    lol Barbara! You seem like a horrible person :(

  • Bonnie

    Ma’am I am sorry but retire with dignity. No one can work forever. Retire and volunteer in the schools but stop this nonsense. I would be extremely upset to have you as one of my children’s teachers. And your attorney should be ashamed for taking your case simply to try and get money out of NYC Dept of Ed.

    • Seraphim0

      Upset to have a teacher with 34 years of spotless service as a teacher for your child? I feel sorry for your kids, then, Bonnie.

      People like you are what is wrong with this country.

  • nkg0515

    I hope she wins. She is a true teacher, in it for the love of it! ALL newer teachers could learn from her!

    • Terri

      couldn’t say it better myself

    • Doddering and feeble!

      Just out of curiosity, how do you know that she is a “True Teacher?” For all you know she is the Teacher that all the kids are afraid of and parents don’t like. I saw her interview and she can’t do the job anymore. It’s time to go.

  • nkg0515

    You are pathetic! Who should she retire????? She was doing a job that she loved! if the parents of her students liked her, what is the issue. YOU should be ashamed of yourself for wanting to deny qualified, seasoned teacher to do what she LOVED to do!

  • Martha Salvia Erickson

    Of course she was terminated because of her age. If she was younger, she wouldn’t be fired because of AWDL (American with disabilities law) why didn’t they give her the 1st grade class? I bet she is an excellent teacher. Shame on YOU New York ! I hopw she wins and gets back to teaching!!

    • markus

      oh please. time for her to retire.

      • nkg0515

        I would rather have someone qualified like her to teach my child than the young teachers today with very little experience who only want to tout their political beliefs.

  • Rob

    “Leon was fired of PS 117 in Queens”? Maybe she can teach the editor while she’s out of work.

    I respect her passion, but if she cannot physically do the job, then maybe there’s some other way she can help the children.

    • Martha Salvia Erickson

      what physical requirement do you need to be a teacher? unless she teaches the gym class. I’m sure she can do her job perfectly. No doubt in my mind that older teachers knew how to teach a lot better than they do today!!!

  • And Wat

    Maybe the good teacher who makes over $100,000.00 a year should pack it in and give at least two other younger teachers looking for a job a chance ! Check out her name on the web on NYC Pensions if you dont think I’m right on the money !

    • Omar

      She could have quit years ago and started collecting her pension but she’s still teaching obviously because she loves it. Stop being an idiot.

    • mariadri

      sorry but older teachers who were teachers FIRST AND HAVE MORE EXPERIENCE should NOT have to quit to give their jobs to inexperienced young idiots. no one deserves to be pushed out of a job just because they’re older someone who just got out of school “wants it”… especially when the experienced ones are better at it! and she’s working so she’s NOT COLLECTING HER PENSION. the fact that you even looked it up proves you don’t have a life! loser

  • Bridget

    Its is a sad situation. The woman has obvious physical disabilities that prevent her for doing her job 100%. She is probably an excellent teacher and I find it amazing that she still wants to work. It seems kind of fishy to me that she does not get a room with a bathroom for kindergarden kids.

  • Bell Toller

    The kids should be teaching this 80 y.o. about using the computer, iphone and texting/tweeting, etc….

    • Jen

      Thank you so much for providing a prime example of the decline of human intelligence. STOP RELYING ON YOUR ELECTRONIC GADGETS TO DO YOUR WORK AND LEARN TO USE YOUR BRAIN, IF YOU EVEN HAVE ONE!

    • Bridget

      Bell, maybe that is the problem with these kids these days. Maybe she should be teaching reading, writing and math first.. You cant’ do “the computer, iphone and texting/tweeting” without first learning the basics.

  • allan tokarz

    looks like an obvious violation of both the age discrimination and failure to accomodate a disability.

  • Tommy

    Amazing. They won’t fire teachers for hitting kids…but they will go after them for junk like this. Meanwhile, she is likely a lifelong educator who loves her job and is probably good at it.

    • Jen

      What’s so wrong with hitting kids? They need it. But hey, if you like seeing teachers being spit on and beaten without any means of defending themselves, then that’s your problem. Get help.

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