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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Jewish School Aide Has Claim for Religious Bias

MANHATTAN (CN) - A high school principal's alleged grudge against observant Jews may leave the New York City Department of Education liable, a federal judge ruled.

The School for Community Research and Learning in the Bronx hired Peter Weiss for a five-year probationary term as assistant to principal William Mulqueen in 2004.

All was well when Mulqueen viewed Weiss as a "pork-eating Jew," according to the complaint. But Weiss says he quickly lost his job after becoming observant.

Mulqueen is not named as a defendant to the complaint, which alleges claims solely against the Education Department.

Early in his tenure, Weiss said that he learned that swastikas had been scrawled twice on classroom blackboards, and Mulqueen "laughed" off the incidents rather than investigate them.

According to the complaint, Mulqueen regularly complained about the "mannerisms" of the school's Jewish employees, who were friends with Weiss.

Mulqueen allegedly criticized a programmer who used Yiddish expressions such as "gai gezunter heit," or "go be well," and for not working on Jewish holidays.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain summarized Mulqueen's alleged slurs against Weiss in a decision that paves the way to trial.

"At some point during the 2005-2006 school year, Mulqueen observed plaintiff eating a sandwich with pork in it and referred to plaintiff as a 'pork-eating Jew," the 25-page order states. "Mulqueen repeated the comment 'several' times during the year. Also, in the context regarding the Jewish New Year, Mulqueen reportedly asked plaintiff why he needed to 'get right with God' when he had 'all of the money in the basement."

Weiss says he initially found the comments "strange" and "offensive," but not anti-Semitic.

Even after the remarks, Mulqueen allegedly gave Weiss the highest possible rating and recommended continuation of the probationary appointment.

But Weiss says that this relationship soured in 2007 after he told Mulqueen that he would no longer work on Saturdays because he was becoming "more Orthodox" in observing the Sabbath.

After that, Mulqueen allegedly said Weiss was "finished" at the school and did not need overtime pay because he had "more money than God," the order states.

In late 2008, the school's superintendant informed Weiss that it would discontinue his position based on a poor rating.

While Mulqueen claimed to have based the rating on absenteeism and insubordination, Weiss says that his absences were valid, and Mulqueen held him to a higher standard than non-Jewish employees.

Judge Swain green-lit claims of hostile work environment and religious discrimination. She dismissed three other claims, which alleged age discrimination, retaliation and violation of due process. The decision notes that Weiss also withdrew five other claims pursuant to a joint stipulation. The withdrawn allegations included violations of Civil Rights Law, free-speech rights, and the Family Medical Leave Act.

A city spokeswoman emphasized the silver lining.

"We are pleased that the court dismissed the plaintiff's retaliation and due process claims, which substantially limits the issues going forward," Elizabeth Thomas said in a statement.

If the parties do not settle, they will meet for a pretrial conference will be held on May 21.

The School for Community Research and Learning is one of seven "specialty schools" built on the former campus of Adlai E. Stevenson High School, which the city shuttered in 2009 for poor performance.

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