A principal who was demoted amid accusations that she prohibited students from celebrating Black History Month has filed a lawsuit against a group of teachers at a Bronx school for discriminating against her because she is white. Meanwhile, the teachers filed their own legal claim against the school district, claiming the principal implied black instructors were lazy and unqualified.
For nearly two years, the New York Daily News has reported on the ongoing feud between former principal Patricia Catania, who is white, and three black teachers at Bronx Intermediate School 224. It all started in February 2018, when students and employees at the 95 percent black school accused Catania of banning Black History Month lessons.
The Daily News Reports:
The disturbing allegations — relayed to the Daily News by eight current or former employees and five students — come amid a spate of racially tinged controversies at city schools.
[Teacher Mercedes] Liriano said she was beginning a class Wednesday when Catania pulled her aside and told her not to give lessons about the famed Harlem Renaissance movement of literature and art in the 1920s.
The order shocked Liriano.
She teaches the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the writings of Frederick Douglass, to her sixth- and seventh-grade students as part of the officially recommended New York state curriculum standards, she noted.
But Catania made clear she had a far different view of what Liriano should be teaching her students, the incensed educator said.
“She said I’m not a social studies teacher so why am I teaching my students about black history?” Liriano said. “Her tone was very harsh, as if I committed a heinous crime.”
Catania’s alleged declaration prompted a campus wide outcry that involved students and teachers wearing all black to protest the elimination of Black History Month. It was all over the news. The school board investigated. Al Sharpton weighed in. You know how it goes.
After an old Board of Education letter surfaced accusing Catania of “incidents indicative of prejudice against Afro-Americans and Hispanics” at her previous job, Catania was eventually demoted and sent to another school to serve as assistant principal. Her new job was in the same district. The school was also majority black. It was in the Bronx.
It was a mile away.
But Catania said it wasn’t even like that.
In court papers obtained by The Root, Catania claims that “thuggish goons” from the teachers’ union threatened to kill her and unfairly maligned her as a racist because she wanted to get rid of the lazy, underperforming teachers and replace them with teachers who cared about students. She further contends that the teachers’ ultimate goal was to replace her with a principal “of African or Caribbean ethnicity” because they are threatened by white leaders.
Catania also contends she never banned Black History Month, she just temporarily confiscated a student’s BHM posters because the staples might hurts someone. And that whole confrontation with Liriano about a Black History Month project? Catania’s lawsuit insists she rejected the project because Liriano failed to write it down in a lesson plan for a substitute teacher.
See? It was all a misunderstanding.
“Calling me a racist is not unlike calling Mahatma Gandhi a violent man” Catiana said in a sworn affidavit. “However, none of this mattered to my cancellers. They decided I had to go, and that was that.”
“The sad irony here about the false charges of racism is that nothing could be further from the truth,” she added. “I have spent my entire career acting in the best interests of all schoolchildren regardless of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. There is literally not a racist thought in my head, nor a racist molecule in my body, nor have I ever made a racist comment, or acted in a racist manner in my life …”
Catania’s lawsuit accuses the teachers and the United Federation of Teachers Union of a “concerted, retaliatory, and malicious campaign of harassment, terrorism, and defamation” that resulted in her being painted as a racist, causing Catania emotional distress and loss of income. She is seeking $5 million dollars in compensatory damages, $15 million dollars in punitive damages, and $2 million dollars in special damages, plus attorney’s fees, costs and disbursements.
The teachers are suing her ass right back.
In another lawsuit, also obtained by The Root, veteran black teachers Liriano, Jacinth Scott, Dianne Roberts and Jasmine Dickinson accuse the New York City Department of Education and Catania of subjecting them to a racially hostile work environment and disparate treatment under local, state and federal law.
- During the 2016-2017 school year, Catania reportedly said “All the black math teachers are incompetent” and “Black teachers have no content.”
- Catania subjected them to over-monitoring and heavy workloads in retaliation for their unionizing efforts.
- Catania told another teacher: “All the Black teachers are only good for disciplining the kids. They’re not bright or effective teachers”
- She kicked Scott out of her classroom and placed her belongings in garbage bags.
- She gave them negative evaluations and work reviews, or prompted others to do so.
Dickinson and Scott eventually left their positions under New York’s “constructive discharge” rule, which allows an employee to leave when an employer “intentionally makes the working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would resign.”
Patricia Catania is still employed by the New York Department of Education.