Three white female administrators at the Department of Education filed a $90-million lawsuit in State Supreme Court May 28 claiming that under the leadership of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, they were targeted for demotions because of their race.
Mr. Carranza has been scrutinized for his approaches to better integrate the public-school system, which is 70 percent black and Hispanic. He has recently come under fire for implicit bias trainings provided to administrators by companies contracted with the agency, which some claimed fostered a sense of “toxic whiteness.”
Scapegoating by Race?
Last June, two months after he replaced Chancellor Carmen Fariña, he restructured the agency, including reassigning some black and white executives. Veteran DOE administrators Lois Herrera, former CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development; Laura Feijoo, ex-Senior Supervising Superintendent; and Jaye Murray, previously the executive director of the Office of Counseling and Support Programs were among the staff who were demoted.
“Carranza has improperly conflated the daunting task of addressing tough socioeconomic challenges facing many of the students in the New York City public school system with a discriminatory belief that Caucasians in the DOE workplace, particularly senior Caucasian women, are causing or exacerbating those challenges,” the lawsuit claimed.
It included a series of complaints that depicted the alleged mistreatment of the veteran employees, and claimed Mr. Carranza told administrators at the agency’s Tweed headquarters in lower Manhattan, “if you draw a paycheck from DOE…get on board with my equity platform or leave.”
The Schools Chancellor denied making such a statement.
Guilty by Longevity?
Last June, Mr. Carranza promoted LaShawn Robinson, then the executive director of the DOE’s Office of Equity and Access, to the post of Deputy Chancellor of School Climate and Wellness, where she supervised Ms. Herrera, who had worked at the agency since 1986. The suit claimed Ms. Robinson said in reference to racial inequities among administrators that “if you’ve been with the DOE for more than 20 years, you’re responsible for the problem.”
Adding insult to injury, after being demoted Ms. Herrera reportedly was tasked with creating a presentation for a City Council hearing on school safety but Ms. Robinson “excluded” her from presenting, “effectively adopting Herrera and her team’s successes as their own.”
The suit also claimed that the white executives were replaced or passed over for promotion in favor of non-white employees who were “woefully less prepared.”
Ms. Feijoo, who was charged with overseeing 46 Superintendents and began working at the DOE in 1989, claimed that she was not even considered to be appointed to the First Deputy Chancellor position, which went to her subordinate, Cheryl Watson-Harris. The complaint stated that Ms. Watson-Harris, who is black and returned to the DOE in 2015 after spending 18 years working in Boston’s public-school system, did not have the required license for the job and was granted a transition period in order to obtain it.
Demoted With No Title
After being demoted last October, Ms. Murray has yet to receive a job title or a job description. That same month, she complained to the DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity, but her claims were ignored, according to the suit.
As part of Mr. Carranza’s overhaul of the agency, nine Executive Superintendent jobs were created. None of the positions went to white women, though the suit didn’t mention that three white men were among those who were hired.
Each of the administrators is seeking $30 million in damages for financial loss and anguish. The DOE stated that their salaries have remained the same or increased since Mr. Carranza became the Chancellor.
Davida Perry, who represents the women and is managing partner of Schwartz Perry & Heller, said that discrimination could not be corrected with more discrimination. “The bottom line is that he’s making hiring decisions based on race and gender, and that’s unlawful,” she said.
‘Want the Most-Qualified’
Mr. Carranza denied that the leadership changes were based upon race. “I want the most qualified, the most passionate, the most focused-on-student educators that I can find,” he said at a press conference a day after the lawsuit was filed. “That’s what I’m focused on doing.”
He continued, “I’m proud of the individuals that are serving our children. And I would say that the children in New York City, 70 percent of whom are black and brown children, get to see senior level administrators that look like them. What’s wrong with that?”
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