The U.S. Attorney announced a lawsuit against the city education department over alleged discrimination at a Queens high school Thursday. Talia Kaplan filed the following report.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced a lawsuit against the city education department for discrimination and retaliation at Pan American International High School in Elmhurst.
Bharara announced Thursday that the United States has filed a lawsuit against city education department, saying that the department allowed the school's former principal, Minerva Zanca, to discriminate against every black teacher at Pan American.
The education department then allegedly retaliated against an assistant principal when he spoke out against it.
Students at the high school told NY1 on Thursday they were surprised.
"She was an excellent principal, because she was fair," junior Carlos Maldonado said. "I didn't see any discrimination."
However, accusations of this kind have been made against Zanca in the past.
In 2013, protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of the city education department, demanding that Zanca be investigated.
At the time, teachers accused Zanca of hostile behavior towards three black teachers.
The allegations included her alleged use of racist language to describe two of those teachers shortly before they were fired.
"When you put these things together, it paints a picture of three people who were professionals, who were good at their craft, and who were robbed basically of their teaching careers, and we are not going to stand for it," John Flanagan, a former teacher at Pan American, said in 2013.
The new lawsuit also says an assistant principal witnessed Zanca make derogatory comments about teachers' appearance and facial features.
It also alleges she targeted another black teacher by cutting her successful theater program, even though the school had funding for it.
Bharara said Superintendent Juan Mendez was made aware of the accusations against Zanca, but didn't do anything.
Bharara said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the city education department had discriminated against the employees and that Zanca was allowed to remain as the principal.
"All employees' work environments must be safe and supportive, and we have zero tolerance for any discrimination," an education department spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson also said Zanca and Mendez never faced any prior disciplinary action.
According to the department, Zanca was the principal at the school August 2012 until she retired from the position in June 2015.
She has since been a part-time guidance counselor at a city school in Brooklyn.