The United States has sued the New York City Department of Education, saying it permitted a Queens high school to discriminate against black teachers.
Thursday's lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeks to force the city to take steps to prevent future discrimination and pay "sufficient damages" to any discrimination victims.
"It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "Yet that is what we allege happened at Pan American International High School. Federal civil rights laws prohibit this misconduct."
The suit said the alleged discrimination occurred during the 2012-2013 school year at Pan American International High School. The lawsuit said the victims included three black teachers among the school's 27 teachers.
The lawsuit said the school's principal made derogatory racial comments to an assistant principal about the teachers. She allegedly said one "looked like a gorilla in a sweater" and made racist remarks about other teachers' lips and hair.
The suit also said that the principal targeted two of the teachers for unsatisfactory lesson ratings, even though she hadn't actually seen the lesson.
When an assistant principal refused to give another lesson an unsatisfactory rating, the principal accused him of "sabotaging her plan" and called school security.
The United Federation of Teachers, the rank-and-file union supporting city teachers, said that it had reported problems to the city Department of Education in 2013.
"When teachers in the school got no relief the UFT and community leaders protested on the steps of Tweed," the union said. "Since then, we have met consistently with the DOE about the management problems at the school."
DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said that "all employees' work environments must be safe and supportive" and added that schools have a zero-tolerance policy for any discrimination.
The principal named in the suit had no prior disciplinary history with the DOE. She'd worked in city schools since 1988 and was principal at Pan American High School from 2012 to 2015, when she retired. She has been working as a part-time guidance counselor at another school since then.
The city's law department says it is reviewing the lawsuit.