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A Discrimination Finding Against DOE
March 12th, 2010

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a determination that the Department of Education discriminated against an employee who was playing a key role in the creation of school focusing on Arab culture and language by, for all intents and purposes, succumbing to a media frenzy against her.

The case involves Debbie Almontaser, long-time education department employee who has been active in promoting racial and religious harmony, particularly after 9/11. IN 2007, Almontaser was project director and interim principal during the planning of the Khalil Gibran Academy, a small public school, and seemed a likely candidate to be the school’s principal when it opened. (The copy of the determination came Almontaser’s lawyer; the commission said it is barred from commenting on discrimination complaints – or even confirming they exist.)

All that changed as a number of blogs and the New York Post stepped up attacks on the proposed school, calling it a madrassa and trying to portray Almontaser as a jihadist who would seek to spread radical Islam in city schools. The breaking point came after the New York Post interviewed Almontaser about the meaning of the word “intifada” and some t-shirts bearing the word.

The resulting story bore the headline “City Principal is Revolting.” Writing on behalf of the commission, district director Spencer Lewis Jr. concluded, “The most inflammatory parts of the article as published were neither quotations from Ms. Almontaser nor legitimate background information; they were characterizations and opinions either from the reporter or as attributions to unnamed others.”

Despite that, the Bloomberg administration urged Almontaser to step down from her post as interim principal and rejected her application to become permanent principal.

According to the commission’s report, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott told the EEOC that Almontaser had become a “flashpoint” and that what he saw as her inability to handle the press had undermined the prospects for the school. This apparently prompted him to ask for her resignation.

In doing this, commission said, “DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing prejudices on DOE as an employer.”

In her complaint, Almontaser asked to be reinstated as principal and receive lost wages (she was demoted to a lower paying teacher’s post following the furor) and $300,000 in compensatory damages.

In an email, Almontaser’s lawyer, Alan Levine, said she would seek a settlement along those lines. If an accord cannot be reached, he said, “We will bring suit on our discrimination claim.”

In a written statement, Levine said “To its everlasting shame, the DOE did the bigot’s work. Now the EEOC has reminded us that it is the responsibility of government to stand up to the forces of discrimination, not give in to them.”

We are awaiting a response from the Department of Education and will pass it along when we get it.

By on March 12, 2010, 3:58 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Education,Gotham City,Law | 7 Comments »

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7 Responses to “A Discrimination Finding Against DOE”

  1. Dean Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I’m sorry, no bigotry intended. But if this woman did not comprehend that a T-shirt (sold by an organization with which she was affiliated)stating “Intifade NYC” is not at the very least incendiary, she has no business, qualifications, judgment or credentials to be a principal.

  2. Sydney Says:
    March 16th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I am relieved to hear about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s determination to call out the department of education’s discriminatory act. To Dean, if you read the NY Times you will find out that “federal judges issued a ruling in which The Post had reported her words incorrectly.”

    It is so easy to fear what we do not understand. Unfortunately for our society, because we are not given a comprehensive education and we do not study middle eastern history nor are we taught about different types of religion.

    Separation of church and state is one thing, ignorance is something else. This school (like OTHER public schools in NYC with language programs) simply sought to demystify a culture, a religion, and a people though education.

  3. Bob Says:
    March 17th, 2010 at 12:11 am

    How completely ignorant of the DOE to ask for the interview by racist NY Post and then call for dismissal based on incendiary editorial remarks by the Post, none of which were true or based on factual events.

    The T shirts had nothing to do with Ms. Almontaser and should not have been even a topic of discussion.

    Stupidity reigns at both the Post and the DOE and the ruling by the Federal EEOC establishes that and Ms. Almontaser will get justice, in spite of these ignorant organizations.

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