Three white female executives who worked for the city Department of Education (DOE) and claimed they were demoted in favor of less-qualified people of color have been handed a momentous victory in their $90 million blockbuster lawsuit.
Lois Herrera, Jaye Murray and Laura Feijoo launched a lawsuit five years ago against then-Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and the DOE under Mayor Bill de Blasio, claiming staff were being discriminated against based on race.
The city launched a motion to dismiss the allegations in Nov 2022, but this week judge Mary Kay Vyskocil ruled that “(the women) offer evidence of a policy of race-based discrimination at Carranza’s DOE,” paving the way for a trial or possible settlement.
Speaking exclusively to The Post for the first time since launching the suit in 2019, Herrera, Murray and Feijoo detailed the crippling affect the case has had on their lives.
“The demotion and sidelining has had a tremendous negative impact on my life,” said Herrera, who had been working as the CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development when she was abruptly stripped of her title and replaced.
“I have suffered from depression and trauma from being unjustly removed from my position,” she said. “I was subjected to intentional public embarrassment and social isolation.”
Feijoo, who had been working as a senior Superintendent for Labor and Policy when she was replaced by an underling, said her “career has been permanently altered” as a result.
“Opportunities to continue to do what I love have disappeared. Most importantly, the opportunity to continue to serve the students of New York City is forever lost,” she said.
Both Herrera and Feijoo have since retired from the DOE, while Murray still holds a position but works from home, with no title, no supervisor and no distinct role.
At the time the lawsuit was launched, Carranza’s DOE was accused of a crusade against “toxic” whiteness, with a push to overhaul leadership and a change in attitude at the department.
Herrera claimed in the suit that she saw a sea change almost immediately after the then-mayor appointed Carranza as chancellor in April 2018.
A month later, LaShawn Robinson, then the executive director of the DOE’s Office of Equity and Access, allegedly told white attendees of a training seminar that they “had to take a step back and yield to colleagues of color” and “recognize that values of white culture are supremacist,” Herrera heard from a fellow administrator, according to the suit.
Robinson was not named as a defendant in the suit.
Despite being Harvard-educated and having been recognized as recently as 2017 for contributing to the “safest year on record” in city schools, Herrera was dropped three rungs on the ladder.
Without so much as a formal search or interview process, Herrera was replaced by a black man, Mark Rampersant, despite him being “demonstrably less qualified,” the suit claims.
Herrera said she was “required” to attend Rampersant’s promotion ceremony and her repeated requests for a new workstation were met with her belongings being stuffed into boxes and stashed under a headquarters stairwell, before she was ultimately transferred to The Bronx ahead of her retirement.
When Rampersant took Herrera’s spot Murray was told that she would now report to him, representing a demotion, according to the suit.
It wasn’t long before Murray was demoted another two rungs, going from executive director of the Office Of Counseling Support Programs to eventually, director of the Office of Safety and Youth Development.
Murray claimed she was forced to report her work every 30 minutes and that an executive director at the department would go over her head and direct Murray’s last remaining two subordinates.
“I was denied access to continuing to successfully support social workers and guidance counselors as well as no longer able to to develop and lead programs to benefit students whom I had been successfully serving for years,” Murray told The Post on Wednesday.
“My heart has been broken as I have watched much of the good work started by the office I lead watered down or erased.”
Feijoo claimed that she was among the earliest casualties of Carranza’s overhaul.
When Carranza was appointing his first deputy chancellor, he tapped Cheryl Watson-Harris, who is black, over Feijoo, who is white, and who was Watson-Harris’ boss — without so much as interviewing Feijoo, the suit states.
While Feijoo supervised all 46 other DOE superintendents, Watson-Harris didn’t even have the necessary license to be first deputy chancellor — so Carranza instituted a “transition period” so she could obtain it, the filing said.
Feijoo was not only leapfrogged by Watson-Harris but soon saw her former underling replace her with Donald Conyers, who is black, and nine employees were promoted into new “executive superintendent” roles above her.
Some of the nine had no prior superintendent experience. None was a white woman.
Feijoo said Wednesday that she feels “validated” by the judge’s ruling.
“For me, it is about standing up for what is right,” she said. “I have spent my career doing the ‘right thing’ because it’s the ‘right thing’ to do. We can not allow injustice no matter what form it comes in,” she said.
Herrera said she hopes that the case will be used as an example to eradicate “race based hiring and staffing practices.”
Davida S. Perry, the attorney who represents the three women, said its unclear whether the case will be settled with the city but called the judge’s ruling “a huge victory.”
While a tremendous step forward, the win was partial with Vyskocil ruling in favor of the City with respect to claims of sex discrimination saying that the “plaintiffs have not proffered evidence of sex discrimination.”
The City Law Department declined to comment while the case is pending.
Perry said that this marks the first of a few cases launched against the DOE making headway.
She also represents two similar cases by Leslie Chislett and Richard Bellis which she told the Post are still pending.
With additional reporting by Susan Edelman