Flushing principal faces sexual harassment suit

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A former teacher at John Bowne High School in Flushing filed a federal lawsuit against the principal, Howard Kwait, over sexual harassment and pressure to inflate grades Monday, court documents show.

Maria Catenacci, who is openly gay, worked as a science teacher at the school for 17 years and also received her master’s degrees in education and school administration while teaching full time.

In the suit filed in Brooklyn federal court, Catenacci claims Kwait, who became principal in September 2006, made sexual advances toward her on the school’s premises as well as at a retirement party for one of their colleagues.

He also asked inappropriate questions about her relationship with other female teachers, according to the lawsuit. Catenacci, who is openly gay, said she resigned after the city Department of Education failed to respond to her complaints.

Kwait, who is still the principal at John Bowne, could not be reached for comment.

At a colleague’s retirement party, Kwait, who was drinking alcohol, asked Catenacci to leave with him, the suit said. On another occasion, she alleged he straddled her. Catenacci rejected his advances both times. In a 2010 incident, he told her that he “watched his mother rape his father” and that he “once molested a girl on his sink,”according to her suit.

She contended Kwait took away her power to oversee the budget for the Advanced Placement Science Research program she created. He replaced capable teachers in her science research program with less competent ones and refused to open seats to more accelerated students. The program lost funding in 2005. He also denied her the opportunity to move up in leadership at the school, the lawsuit said.

He also made discriminatory and sexual comments to her and yelled and screamed at her, the lawsuit alleged. He also asked her about her relations with other women, including female teachers at the school and other female DOE employees.

The lawsuit also claims that he asked her to inflate students’ grades in June 2010.

Catenacci reported his behavior to the city Office of Special Investigation, but no action was taken either time, the lawsuit alleges. Catenacci resigned from her position as a result.

She is seeking reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and the cost of litigation in the sexual harassment and discrimination suit.

Former teacher Sally Maya also filed a federal lawsuit against Kwait Tuesday, saying that Kwait turned against her after she went on leave due to her pregnancy in 2009 and ridiculed her in front of other staffers, according to the New York Post.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Posted 12:00 am, December 6, 2014
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