A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the founding principal of a public Arabic-language school who lost her job amid a public uproar over her remarks downplaying T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Intifada NYC."
Debbie Almontaser, former principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, had accused school officials in federal court in Manhattan of violating her right to free speech by forcing her to resign over a newspaper interview they had sanctioned.
In a ruling late Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein found that Almontaser's comments in a 2007 interview with the New York Post were "pursuant to her official duties," and therefore not protected by the First Amendment. He also rejected an allegation that school officials also had violated her right to due process.
Almontaser's attorney said in a statement Wednesday that his client would still pursue her claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"Nothing in yesterday's decision questions the underlying facts concerning the (Department of Education's) actions: Ms. Almontaser was the target of hate-filled attacks because she was an Arab and a Muslim and because she said something that public officials disagreed with," said the attorney, Alan Levine.
Paul Marks, a deputy chief with the city Law Department, said officials "were pleased the court found that the city did not violate either Ms. Almontaser's First Amendment or due process rights."
The New York Post article from 2007 said that when asked about the "Intifada" T-shirts sold by a women's community group, Almontaser explained that the term meant "shaking off" instead of "uprising."
"I don't believe the intention is to have any of that kind of (violence) in New York City," the newspaper quoted her as saying. "I think it's pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society ... and shaking off oppression."
Subsequent newspaper articles, Web sites and talk radio branded Almontaser a radical and a jihadist. Though the principal accused the newspaper of misquoting her, school officials issued an apology.
When the outcry failed to subside, Almontaser said a deputy mayor asked her to resign. She quit the next day and took an administrative job.