Reverse Discrimination Case Settles for $2.1 Million

New York City has agreed to pay $2.1 million dollars to three former white Department of Education employees who were demoted and replaced by people of color in effort to promote DEI within the Department. Lois Herrera, Jaye Murray, and Laura Feijoo sued the city five years ago alleging that the Department “implemented a discriminatory policy of considering race that caused [them] to be demoted and sidelined in favor of less qualified ‘candidates of color.’”

In Herrera v. NYC Department of Education, the evidence of race-based employment policy that the plaintiffs offered was that Mayor DeBlasio testified that it was “a policy for his administration to reflect the diversity of the city” and that race was an “important factor” in hiring decisions at the DOE.  DeBlasio testified that he was “certain” that he instructed School Chancellor Ramirez that “the administration of DOE should reflect the diversity of New York City.” Ramirez, in turn, testified that de Blasio was sometimes “fixated on diversity of candidates” and that “we want senior leadership to reflect the diversity of the school system.”

In support of their discrimination claims, the three teachers pointed out that in DOE diversity training, white DOE staffers were told that “moving towards racial equality” means “you will have to step back from things.  You might fear losing your job.” In addition, one member of Chancellor Ramirez’ new leadership team made a disparaging remark about “whiteness” and another boasted that the DOE was now “Wakanda.”

In denying the DOE’s motion for summary judgment and granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, Judge Vyskoch noted that the white plaintiffs were all replaced with individuals who allegedly had lesser qualifications, in order to change the racial composition of leadership.  Moreover, there was evidence sufficient to permit the inference that there was a policy at DOE of using race as a determinative factor in hiring. The $2.1 million dollar settlement came just five months after the court ruled in their favor.

Employers and employees should be wary of DEI initiatives and policies that discriminate against employees under the guise of increasing diversity numbers or meeting DEI quotas. Efforts to increase diversity by replacing employees using an identity-based policy could lead to an increase in similar types of discrimination cases. Lou Pechman’s article, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Programs May Invite Reverse Discrimination Lawsuits,” was published in Smerconish. Pechman Law Group has represented clients in high profile reverse discrimination cases.

If you believe you have been a victim of reverse discrimination in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys of Pechman Law Group at 212-583-9500.


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