The city of New York must pay over $1 million in settlements to educators who suffered under the tenure of a racist principal.
The payout is the result of a lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed against New York’s Department of Education in 2016, as reported by New York Daily News. Three teachers and one assistant principal claimed Principal Minerva Zanca had a vendetta against the Black teachers at Pan American High School during the 2012-2013 school year.
Former Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo accused Zanca of pressuring him to give Black employees low performance reviews to make it easier for her to get rid of them. John Flanagan and Heather Hightower, two Black untenured teachers, were the primary targets of Zanca’s scorn. Riccardo testified Zanca gave the pair negative reviews before she did any observation of their work, per a press release from U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Zanca also made racist comments in Riccardo’s presence. She told him Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater,” and stated she could “never” wear “f—-g nappy hair” like Hightower. Zanca’s comments about Flanagan centered on his lips. She asked Riccardo if he’d seen Flanagan’s “big lips quivering” during a meeting and compared him to a Black man in a Tropicana commercial “with those same lips.”
Both of them left at the end of the school year after negative reviews from Zanca. Hightower and Flanagan received $500,000 and $362,500 from the lawsuit, respectively.
Lisa-Erika James, who was tenured, also suffered under Zanca’s administration. James ran a highly successful theater program at Pan American until the principal snatched funding away, resulting in cancellations. Zanca would tell James there was no money available for her productions, when in reality she’d simply redirected the funds elsewhere. She also pressured Riccardo to give James a negative performance review.
Riccardo refused to punish any of the teachers, so Zanca directed her wrath at him. She accused him of “sabotaging her plan,” gave him a negative performance review and had him escorted from the building by security. Riccardo received $175,000 from the settlement.
James is taking her case to trial, which starts this month. The federal case against the city also remains open.
“It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish,” said then-Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in June 2016 as the Department of Justice launched Its own lawsuit against the city of New York. “Yet that is what we allege happened at Pan American International High School. Federal civil rights laws prohibit this misconduct. This suit seeks to remedy the violations that occurred at Pan American and ensure that the New York City Department of Education protects its employees’ civil rights in the future.”