NYC Department of Education Sued for Racism

The New York City Department of Education is being sued by a former art teacher at a middle school in the Bronx for constructive discharge by making her work environment so hostile due to age and racial discrimination that she had to retire early.

Harriet Harewood, an African American 57-year-old woman, was hired as an art teacher at Middle School 390 in September 1999, according to the complaint. She claims to have consistently received “satisfactory” and “effective” and/or “highly effective” performance ratings and evaluations up until the 2015-16 school year.

Beginning in the 2012-13 school year the principal and assistant principal, who Harewood claims are both of Dominican descent, began to target “older and/or black teachers and other staff in favor of younger and/or Hispanic individuals,” according to the complaint. That year “a number of older and/or black teachers were asked to leave the school or were pushed out,” the complaint states.

Harewood claims that she became the target of this effort the following year and it continued until she left in 2017. She claims that for years she was given extra work at the school as a morning scheduler, but in 2013 the role was taken from her and given to a “younger, Dominican individual.”

Harewood also claims that, beginning in 2013 she was denied art supplies even though she was aware of a grant to the school for the purpose of providing such material. In June 2015 Harewood lost her designated art classroom and had to travel throughout the school with multiple floors using a cart. This was the first time in her career she was without a classroom.

According to the complaint, when Harwood asked the principal for an elevator key to more readily transport her supply cart he said no. Only after submitting two doctors’ notes stating that she needed to use the elevator did she receive a key.

Harewood claims that she began to receive “less-than-effective” evaluations and her first ever disciplinary letters to the file for the very first time in her 33 year career in the spring of 2017. She also claims the disciplinary letters were based on false allegations.

Although Harewood had no intentions of retiring until the end of 2020 when her daughter would graduate from college, she claims that she could no longer continue because of the harassment and discriminatory behavior she encountered. She claims she was constructively discharged.

Harewood is represented by Bryan Glass of New York City who filed the complaint in the Southern District of New York.