The federal case into discrimination at an Elmhurst high school began Wednesday morning in a Manhattan courtroom.
Seven years ago, three black teachers at the Pan American International High School in Elmhurst said then principal Minerva Zanca tried to remove them from the school during the 2012-13 academic year because of their race.
The three instructors, Heather Hightower, John Flanagan and Lisa Erika-James, filed complaints to the United States Equal Opportunity Commission that same year, according to a 2016 lawsuit from former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara.
According to the lawsuit, Zanca once told the school’s Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo that Hightower “looked like a gorilla in a sweater” and she could never have ” f**king nappy hair like her.” The lawsuit also alleges that that the principal cut James popular theater program citing budget issues, only to restart the program once James had left the school.
Zanca also retaliated against Riccardo when he refused to give the teachers poor evaluations. The lawsuit claims, that the DOE allowed for the discriminatory behavior to happen. A spokesperson from the City’s Law Department denied the allegations and said that the DOE remains committed to it’s inclusive policies.
James, the only one of the group to not settle with the city, stood on the steps of City Hall last month along with fellow teachers and other advocates to say that the hopefully the federal case would address systemic racism within in the DOE.
“That a school administrator could act in such an egregiously offensive manner is particularly disconcerting,” said American Federation Teachers President Randi Weingarten and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew in a statement. “Both the City and the DOE should recognize this trauma and its adverse effect on both physical and mental health.”
This story first appeared on amny.com.