A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the founding principal of an Arabic-language school who sued the city, claiming that her rights were violated when she was fired in 2007 for defending the word "intifada" on a T-shirt.
The principal, Debbie Almontaser, had argued in her suit that the city violated her First Amendment rights when it fired her for explaining in a newspaper interview that the word had nonviolent origins. Judge Sidney H. Stein, who dismissed the case in Federal District Court in Manhattan, rejected her claims, saying that Ms. Almontaser made her statements in the course of her duties as an administrator — not "as a citizen on a matter of public concern" — and that employers have some rights to control their employees' words and actions.
Ms. Almontaser participated in an interview "pursuant to her official duties as acting interim principal" of the school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the court ruled. "This speech is not protected by the First Amendment."
The controversy over Ms. Almontaser's statements began in August 2007, when she wasquestioned by The New York Post about T-shirts that bore the phrase "Intifada NYC." The shirts were sold by the group Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, and had no relation to the school. But when Ms. Almontaser defended the meaning of the phrase as literally meaning "shaking off" instead of something more violent, the Education Department was besieged by complaints, and Ms. Almontaser was asked to resign.
Shortly afterward, Ms. Almontaser filed her lawsuit against the Education Department, the chancellor and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, saying that they not only violated her right to free speech but also "conspired to deny her the opportunity to regain her position as principal."
Alan Levine, a lawyer for Ms. Almontaser, did not immediately respond to a phone message on Tuesday night. In a statement, Paul Marks, a lawyer representing the city in the case, said he was pleased by the dismissal.