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NYC pays out more than $1 million in settlements to employees who accused Queens high school principal of racism

By Stephen Rex Brown and Michael Elsen Rooney, New York Daily News

The city has shelled out more than $1 million in settlement payments to three former employees at a Queens high school who claimed their principal targeted them with racist insults and retaliation, The Daily News has learned.

The hefty payout comes after the federal Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city Education Department in 2016 for allowing a “pattern and practice of discrimination” to flourish at Pan American High School during the 2012-13 school year.

Three teachers and one assistant principal said they suffered the wrath of former school principal Minerva Zanca, who was allegedly determined to force out black teachers with negative performance evaluations.

Former assistant principal Anthony Riccardo alleged Zanca pressured him to give low ratings to three black teachers in her crosshairs and retaliated when he declined. Riccardo in turn got a negative evaluation from Zanca and left the school in 2013. Riccardo got a $175,000 settlement, according to a spokesman from the city Law Department.

Zanca also made racist comments about Black teachers Heather Hightower and John Flanagan, telling Riccardo she could “never” have nappy hair like Hightower’s and asking if he’d seen Flanagan’s “big lips quivering” during a meeting, according to court papers. The two teachers, both untenured, left the school at the end of the 2012-13 school year after Zanca gave them unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Hightower received a $362,500 payout and Flanagan got $500,000, the city law department said.

One former teacher who sued, Lisa-Erika James, has not settled. She’s taking her case to trial, which starts in February. The federal Justice Department’s case against the city is also still active. The feds seek an order that it take measures to prevent it from happening again in the future.

A Law Department spokesman said “the Department of Education is committed to supporting people of all backgrounds. Based on our assessment, these teachers were not discriminated against. The parties have decided that ending this legal matter was in their best interests.”

This article originally appeared in New York Daily News.

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