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.
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.
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