Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza pushed back Wednesday against a lawsuit claiming that three top education officials were improperly demoted because they are white women, saying the allegations are “absolutely not true.”
The complaint was filed Tuesday on behalf of three high-level officials: Lois Herrera, who was previously CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development; Laura Feijoo, who was the Senior Supervising Superintendent; and Jaye Murray, who was executive director of the Office of Counseling and Support Programs.
The lawsuit is notable because senior department administrators rarely sue the district in a direct challenge to the chancellor’s hiring practices. All three women claim that their work was minimized and they were demoted as part of Carranza’s reorganization last year and replaced with less qualified people of color.
“Carranza has improperly conflated the daunting task of addressing tough socioeconomic challenges facing many of the students in the New York City public school system with a discriminatory belief that caucasians in the DOE workplace, particularly more senior caucasian women, are causing or exacerbating those challenges” according to the lawsuit filed in state court, first reported by the New York Post.
On Wednesday, the schools chief aggressively challenged those claims.
“Last time I checked, as the chancellor I have the prerogative of organizing the system to deliver better results. That’s exactly what I did,” Carranza said at an unrelated press conference in the Bronx about summer meals.
He added: “The children in New York City — 70% of whom are black and brown children — get to see senior level administrators that look like them. What’s wrong with that? And they happen to be extremely well-qualified individuals who at any moment could get tapped to lead their own school system anywhere across this country.”
The lawsuit comes as Carranza has made racial equity a centerpiece of his agenda. One of his most tangible policy moves since taking office a year ago has been requiring that all of the city’s educators receive implicit bias training within two years, an effort he has described as a “cornerstone” of his school improvement efforts.
Those trainings have also sparked pushback from some education department employees who have anonymously claimed in a series of Post stories that the trainings have created a toxic work environment. (The anti-bias trainings are not specifically described in the lawsuit.)
Herrera, Feijoo, and Murray repeatedly felt devalued because of their race, according to the lawsuit, which seeks $90 million in damages. Some of their specific claims include:
- At a graduation for students in temporary housing that Hererra attended, a superintendent said he was “so glad to see a sea of black and brown children,” according to the lawsuit. Another presenter at the graduation read a poem “that warned racial minority students against caucasians.” Carranza and Robinson offered standing ovations, which “distressed and marginalized Hererra,” according to the complaint.
- Last June, Carranza told a group of administrators that “if you draw a paycheck from DOE … Get on board with [his] equity platform or leave,” according to the lawsuit, which suggests this was a threat used to silence white education department employees. Carranza denied saying that on Wednesday.
- The lawsuit claims that Cheryl Watson-Harris was appointed first deputy chancellor above Feijoo even though Watson-Harris did not initially have the appropriate license.
- At a professional learning session that included Herrera, Robinson said that “If you’ve been with the DOE for more than 20 years, you’re responsible for the problem” referring to racial inequities, according to the lawsuit. Herrera has been at the education department since the mid 1980s.
- The lawsuit claims formal hiring processes were not followed in making promotions. On Wednesday, Carranza said there was a process that included interviews.
Will Mantell, an education department spokesman, declined to comment on the specific allegations listed in the lawsuit. “We hire the right people to get the job done for kids and families, and these claims of ‘reverse racism’ have no basis in fact,” he said in a statement. “We’ll continue to foster a supportive environment for all our employees.”
Mantell added that Feijoo, Herrera, and Murray all earn the same or higher salaries as they did when Carranza took office.