Federal Panel Finds Bias in Ouster of Principal, Debbie Almontaser

Posted on March 15, 2010

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March 12, 2010

By ANDREA ELLIOTT, New York Times

A federal commission has determined that New York City’s Department of Education discriminated against the founding principal of an Arabic-language public school by forcing her to resign in 2007 following a storm of controversy driven by opponents of the school.

Acting on a complaint filed last year by the principal, Debbie Almontaser, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the department “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer,” according to a letter issued by the commission on Tuesday.

The commission said that the department had discriminated against Ms. Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, “on account of her race, religion and national origin.”

The findings, which are nonbinding, could mark a turning point in Ms. Almontaser’s battle to reclaim her job as principal of the school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn.

The commission asked the Department of Education to reach a “just resolution” with Ms. Almontaser and to consider her demands, which include reinstatement to her old job, back pay, damages of $300,000 and legal fees. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the dispute will end up in court, her lawyer said.

Commission officials declined to answer questions about the case, citing federal confidentiality law, but Ms. Almontaser’s lawyer provided a copy of the letter to The New York Times.

“There is no question that this is an important step in the road to her ultimate vindication,” said Alan Levine, Ms. Almontaser’s lawyer. “Up until now, the D.O.E. has really had its way and hasn’t had to answer for its actions.”

In a statement, a lawyer for the city disputed the commission’s findings.

The Department of Education “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated,” said Paul Marks, the city’s deputy chief of labor and employment law in the Law Department. “If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations.” [more]

For more information about the firestorm brewed up by opponents of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, please click here to view a video from the New York Times.

Democracy Now: Debbie Almontaser speaks out

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

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