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NYC Assistant Principal Alleges She Was Ordered by Principal to Discriminate Against Older Black Teachers

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On October 30, A New York Federal District Judge in the interests of justice reversed his own decision, allowing a former NYC Assistant Principal to have a jury decide whether the Principal fired her for refusing to discriminate against older African American teachers in the school. In September 2008, Christina Villavicencio, a Hispanic female, had been employed by the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) for fifteen years.

During the 2008-2009 school year, Villavicencio served as an assistant principal at P.S. 316 under the supervision of Principal Elif Gure-Perez. Her status was probationary. The allegations by the plaintiff Villavicencio against the New York City Department of Education and Principal Gure-Perez are as follows: that Principal Gure-Perez instructed Assistant Principal Villavicencio to “aggressively supervise ‘older staff members’ at PS 316 to shake them up.” All of these staff members were minorities, and all but one was African-American. The principal directed Villavicencio to re-observe two African-American teachers whom Villavicencio had rated “Satisfactory” because Gure-Perez “wanted these teachers to be rated Unsatisfactory . . . because they were ‘old’ and African Americans.” She instructed Villavicencio to use “fear” and “intimidation” against a third teacher in order to “make her retire.” When Villavicencio suggested to Gure-Perez that “it would be fair to give these [minority] staff members . . . a little time before they were formally observed and/or evaluated, Gure-Perez sneered: ‘So you think these teachers are entitled to work in this building?’”

Villavicencio alleged that she “refused to be Perez’s tool for the discriminatory treatment of African Americans and older staff at PS 316,” toward whom Perez showed “blatant disrespect . . . in the presence of students and others, using intimidating language, threats of arrest and/or dismissal, excessive write-ups, and forceful suggestions of retirement.” Plaintiff however would not provide older African American teachers with unwarranted “Unsatisfactory” ratings as ordered, and refused to follow Perez’s “instructions to use intimidation, fear, excessive false write-ups, and other foul tactics” on older African American teachers “so Perez could get rid of those individuals from PS 316.”

The plaintiff alleged that once Gure-Perez realized Villavicencio would not take part in “her plan to use trumped-up write-ups, fraudulent evaluations and false pretenses to get rid of older African American staff at PS 316,” the principal “began to nitpick and find non-existent fault with Villavicencio’s work.” In March 2009, Gure-Perez started to “create a false paper trail to get rid of Villavicencio from PS 316,” criticizing her for not clocking in for the month of November and telling Villavicencio that she did not have a “backbone to write up teachers.” In a single day, March 17, 2009, Gure-Perez placed seven disciplinary letters in Villavicencio’s file. On March 26, 2009, Gure-Perez gave plaintiff the first “Unsatisfactory” rating of her career, together with a notice of discontinuance of her probationary service as assistant principal.

It is further alleged that Villavicencio was reassigned to P.S. 191 on April 2, 2009, under the supervision of Principal Capolongo. Capolongo, a friend of Gure-Perez, told Villavicencio on multiple occasions: “‘I’m not Ms. Gure-Perez and not one to mess around with.’” Gure-Perez allegedly encouraged Capolongo to give Villavicencio a hard time. A few days after Villavicencio started working at P.S. 191, Capolongo told Villavicencio to come to her office with a United Federation of Teachers (“UFT”) representative because the meeting could lead to disciplinary action. The UFT chapter leader advised Villavicencio to leave the school because “[Capolongo and her friends] are after you.”

The plaintiff alleges that because of her refusal to discriminate as directed, Gure-Perez terminated her position as assistant principal when transferring her, resulting in a salary reduction. Further, the experiences with Gure-Perez and Capolango led Villavicencio to take medical leave due to anxiety and depression. Villavicencio was prescribed medication and therapy for her condition.

Senior Federal District Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District initially dismissed the suit, but upon reflection, reinstated the complaint under a theory of law that was never argued by the parties. The case involving Villavicencio is now scheduled for trial on January 27, 2015.

The factual allegations of the case are taken from Judge Weinsteins two cited decisions. Villavicencio v. Gure-Perez, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154241 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 30, 2014); Villavicencio v. Gure-Perez, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144048 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 8, 2014). This is certainly a case of interest and BBNR will follow up with the verdict and any decisions from post trial motions.

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