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Commission finds city discriminated in forcing principal to resign

The former principal of a dual-language Arabic-English school was forced to resign by city officials who discriminated against her, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found today.

A report by the commission found that in 2007, when Khalil Gibran International Academy interim principal Debbie Almontaser was forced to resign, Department of Education officials acted out of ethnic and religious bias. Almontaser, an Arab Muslim, was asked to leave the school after some found comments she made in the press offensive and began a campaign to paint her as an extremist. Since then, the school has struggled to get back on its feet and Almontaser is arguing that she should be allowed to have her old job back.

The commission’s report states that “the DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.” It goes on to suggest that the DOE consider reinstating Almontaser.

The city’s Deputy Chief of Labor and Employment Law, Paul Marks, said in a statement that the commission’s findings were “without any basis whatsoever.”

“The DOE in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be re-instated. If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations,” Marks said.

Almontaser’s attorney, Alan Levine, said though the DOE had rejected previous requests for Almontaser to return to the school, the commission’s report could influence city officials.

“The EEOC is an agency with considerable expertise,” Levine said. “Its findings should be given considerable weight.”

Last year, a District Court judge found that Almontaser’s comments were not protected by the First Amendment.

EEOC DETERMINES THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION DISCRIMINATED AGAINST FORMER KGIA INTERIM ACTING PRINCIPAL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, New York March 12, 2010

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a Determination in which it finds that the Department of Education forced Debbie Almontaser, the former interim acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), to resign in order to appease her anti-Arab and anti-Muslim critics. The Commission ruled that, in demanding Ms. Almontaser’s resignation, the “DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”

“This is a stunning and important vindication of what Debbie and her supporters have been claiming all along — that the Department of Education succumbed to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice, committing a terrible injustice and sending a dangerous message about the ability of voices of bigotry and hatred to determine which public schools get to exist and who should lead them,” said educator and writer Paula Hajar.

The Commission also held that Ms. Almontaser was the victim of discrimination when she subsequently applied for the position of permanent principal. It was “clear,” the commission held, that, when she applied, she was not evaluated on the basis of her credentials, noting that the DOE had announced before Almontaser’s application was ever seen “that she would not be considered” for the position.

“I am delighted by the EEOC’s Determination, a step on the road to justice for Debbie Almontaser. It is high time for the DOE to admit that it has done her a terrible wrong. Her good name and reputation deserve to be redeemed,” said Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, one of the signatories of the letter from Jewish leaders in support of Almontaser that was sent to the Mayor and Chancellor last year.

Commenting on the Commission’s finding, Alan Levine, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Debbie Almontaser was victimized twice, first, when she was subjected to an ugly smear campaign orchestrated by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots, and second, when the DOE capitulated to their bigotry. But the bigots didn’t have the power to take her job away. The DOE did. To its everlasting shame, the DOE did the bigots’ work. Now the EEOC has reminded us that it is the responsibility of government to stand up to the forces of discrimination, not to give into them.”

In a letter accompanying its Determination, the EEOC has asked the DOE to consider Almontaser’s demand for reinstatement and an award of damages.

EEOC Determination

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