‘TREMENDOUS PAIN’ INFLICTED: Lisa-Erika James, who settled her lawsuit for $150,000, said her Principal’s slashes of funding for the successful theater program she ran, causing student productions to be canceled, ‘impacted my esteem, my ability to think about myself as professional.’ She said prior to the trial that she hoped her suit would curtail ‘systemic racism in the public-school system.’

A black Teacher who alleged that the city Department of Education allowed a high school Principal to racially discriminate against her Feb. 6 settled a lawsuit brought on her behalf by Federal prosecutors when the city agreed to pay her $150,000.

The case, which was filed by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in 2016, claimed that during the 2012-2013 school year, Pan American International High School’s former Principal, Minerva Zanca, retaliated against the only black staffers at the school, John Flanagan, Heather Hightower and Lisa-Erika James.

Cut Her Theater Program

The suit argued that Ms. Zanca discriminated against Ms. James, who was tenured, by cutting funding for the highly successful theater program she oversaw, eventually resulting in student productions being cancelled.


MINERVA ZANCA: Actions, words cost city a bundle.

Ms. James, who now teaches at LaGuardia High School, said that the mistreatment caused “tremendous pain in these last seven years.” “It impacted my self-esteem, my ability to think about myself as professional,” she said.

It also claimed that Ms. Zanca, who became Principal of the Queens school in 2012, allegedly told Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo that Ms. Hightower had “f------ nappy hair” and looked like a “gorilla in a sweater,” and asked him whether he had seen Mr. Flanagan’s “big lips quivering” during a meeting.

After Mr. Riccardo refused Ms. Zanca’s order to give Ms. Hightower a negative evaluation after observing her classroom performance, he was retaliated against with an unsatisfactory rating for the year, the suit alleged. Although he alerted education officials about her alleged behavior, the DOE continued to defend Ms. Zanca, according to the claims.

Offending Principal Gone

None of the educators who claimed they were targeted continued working at Pan American after the 2012-2013 school year. Ms. Zanca retired in 2016.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office heard the case, and a settlement was reached on the second day of the trial. The case was formally dismissed Feb. 7.

Ms. James’s attorney, Erica Shnayder, did not return a request for comment. Ms. James has previously said that she hoped the suit would bring an end to “systemic racism in the public school system.”

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city Law Department, stated that the DOE believed Ms. Zanca made “sound pedagogical decisions.”

“There is no admission of wrongdoing by the DOE. However, it served nobody’s interests to continue the litigation, so the parties entered into this settlement,” he said in a phone interview.

Ms. James was the last of the educators to settle the case. The DOE has made more than $1 million in settlement payments to the other employees, according to the city Law Department. Ms. Hightower received $362,500, while Mr. Flanagan settled for $500,000 and Mr. Riccardo got $175,000.

We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.