The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that the New York City Department of Education in 2007 discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, who was forced to resign from her position as principal of an Arabic-language public school in Brooklyn.
Debbie Almontaser, former head of Khalil Gibran International Academy, talks about the controversy surrounding the school's curriculum on The Brian Lehrer Show, May 2008.
Almontaser resigned amid pressure stemming from efforts of a group called the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, which opposed establishment of the school she helped found, Khalil Gibran International Academy.
The group attempted to tie Almontaser to T-shirts distributed in the area by a separate community group that read "Intifada NYC." In an interview with the New York Post, Almontaser denied connections or knowledge of the T-shirts, but explained that the root of the word 'intifada' means "shaking off." Controversy erupted as Almontaser was charged with downplaying violent connotations of the word, and she eventually resigned amid pressure from the city.
The E.E.O.C said in its letter that officials discriminated against Almontaser, who is Yemeni-American and Muslim , "on account of her race, religion and national origin."
Aliya Latif, civil rights director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the letter a "strong rebuke to the vocal, agenda-driven minority that seeks to marginalize the American Muslim and Arab American communities.
"We call on the Department of Education to reinstate Ms. Almontaser or place her in a comparable position," he said.
A lawsuit raised by Almontaser against the city was dismissed by a federal judge last year, but the E.E.O.C. findings could lead the issue back to court. The letter asked the Department of Education to reach a "just resolution" with Almontaser, who is seeking a return to her job as principal of the school, back pay, damages of $300,000 and legal fees.
City officials continue to deny any wrongdoing.
Days after the E.E.O.C. letter surfaced, Holly Anne Reichert, who served as principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy since January 2008, resigned and was replaced by an Arab American interim principal.
Department of Education officials said the mid-year resignation was unrelated to the E.E.O.C. letter.