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Next stop federal court in Khalil Gibran saga

Federal court could be the next stop in the drawn-out drama surrounding Khalil Gibran International Academy, the Arabic-language school where the founding principal was forced to resign before the doors even opened.

Earlier this month, a federal employment panel ruled that the city had discriminated against the principal, Debbie Almontaser. But the panel, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, does not have the authority to impose consequences when it finds evidence of discrimination. Instead, it brings the groups together to negotiate a plan of action.

But yesterday the city told the Almontaser it wasn’t interested in negotiating, according to a group that has organized to support Khalil Gibran.

What’s next? The EEOC can choose to bring a lawsuit against an employer who rejects negotiation, and according to Khalil Gibran’s supporters, it has already referred Almontaser’s case to the federal justice department. Almontaser and her lawyers have said that they plan to sue based on the EEOC’s ruling. So the city could be facing a costly two-pronged legal attack over Khalil Gibran’s principalship.

As for the struggling school, all hopes rest on a new principal, the fourth since the school opened in 2007.

A press release from the group supporting the school is below:

COMMUNITIES IN SUPPORT OF
KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY

DOE REJECTS EEOC FINDING OF DISCRIMINATION,
REFUSES NEGOTIATION WITH ALMONTASER

EEOC Refers Case to Department of Justice to Consider Action Against City

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 24, 2010

Contact: Mona Eldahry 917-703-0488; Donna Nevel 917-570-4371

The Department of Education (DOE) has notified the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that it is unwilling to engage in a process of conciliation concerning the EEOC’s finding that the DOE discriminated against Debbie Almontaser when it forced her to resign as acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The DOE’s position was conveyed to Ms. Almontaser and her lawyers in a letter received yesterday.

The EEOC’s ruling on March 9, 2010 had given the DOE until March 24 to indicate whether it would work with Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers and the EEOC to reach a “just resolution” of her claim. Within hours of receiving the EEOC’s ruling, the DOE responded that it had “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated.”

Commenting on the DOE’s unwillingness to engage in conciliation, Cynthia Rollings, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Given the DOE’s dismissive response to the EEOC ruling, we were not surprised to learn that the DOE now says it is unwilling to engage in conciliation. The response is clearly prompted by considerations having nothing to do with the substance of the EEOC Determination.” Co-counsel Alan Levine concurred: “The EEOC’s finding of discrimination is thorough and persuasive. The DOE’s cavalier dismissal of that finding is stark evidence that the merits of the ruling played no part in its refusal to engage in conciliation discussions.”

Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers announced that they intend to bring a lawsuit based on Ms. Almontaser’s discrimination claim. In addition, as a result of the DOE’s refusal to conciliate, the EEOC has referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider whether it, too, will bring a court action against the DOE.

“Although all of us familiar with these events knew that the DOE had discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, this is the first time that a finding of discrimination has been made by an impartial agency. We have all witnessed the DOE’s arrogance on many occasions, but this is particularly appalling,” stated Ujju Aggarwal of the Center for Immigrant Families.

“This case is of great importance to the Arab and Muslim communities, and we will urge our political representatives to contact the DOJ in an effort to get the DOJ to sue, ” said Dalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council-NYC (MPAC-NYC).

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