Principal is Transferred While City Settles Harassment Lawsuits
Howard Kwait, principal of John Browne High School in Flushing, New York, since 2006, was reassigned after Richard A. Carranza, the newly appointed school chancellor reviewed the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against him. Kwait, who brought home $157,000 per year as the school’s principal, was transferred “to a central office where he will be closely supervised and will no longer be permitted to manage other employees,” Toya Holness, Department of Education spokesperson, said. “Schools must be safe, welcome and inclusive environments for all students and staff, and we will do everything in our power to hold employees accountable for meeting these standards.” New York City has paid out more than $600,000 to settle the lawsuits against Kwait.
Over all, New York City has settled 32 sexual harassment cases in the three-year period from 2014 to 2017 and has paid out $4.7 million, according to data released in April of this year. Over this time period, 1,312 sexual harassment complaints were lodged, 221 of which were substantiated. At the Department of Education, 471 sexual harassment complaints were filed during the same three-year period, seven of which were substantiated. Yet, 249 complaints were unexpectedly withdrawn.
According to Major Bill de Blasio, the withdrawal of that many cases indicates, “that on many fronts we get a certain number of complaints that are not real.” He added, “The bottom line is anyone who comes forward will be believed and we’re going to make sure every complaint is fully investigated.”
In one of the lawsuits against Kwait, guidance counselor Lauren Prettitore accused him of rubbing his body against hers, saying that he would perform oral sex on her if she achieved a high graduation rate and telling her he would like to see her and another female teacher have sex. In a written communication sent to faculty members, Kwait also referred to Prettitore and four other female employees as “five-star lesbian club,” according to the lawsuit. And, yet, Prettitore said the Department of Education did nothing to act on her complaints. Her case was ultimately settled in September of last year for $130,000.
In June 2015 the city closed two cases against Kwait for a total of $275,000. In one, Sally Maya, an assistant principal, accused him of discriminating against her once she became pregnant. That case settled for $200,000. In the other, Maria Catenacci, also an assistant principal, said she was subject to “repeated sexual advances” by the principal. Her lawsuit settlement made up the remainder.
In 2013, Kwait was fined $4,500 and ordered to take sensitivity training. He had a letter placed in his employment file. The review of Kwait’s file is part of a continuing effort to examine how the Department of Education “can tighten procedures and hold employees accountable,” Holness said.
Kwait continues to be accused of retaliating against Marc Einsohn, another assistant principal, who questioned Kwait’s alleged request to inflate student’s grades. “The case has nothing to do with sexual harassment and we believe the allegations have no merit,” said Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, of the pending litigation.