Lawsuits allege pay bias, difficult environment for women at Boston Public Schools’ central offices
The Boston school system is facing two lawsuits from female administrators in the central offices who describe a difficult work environment, offering a rare glimpse at the culture inside the notoriously dysfunctional School Department headquarters.
One case alleges that female administrators who work in the Office of English Language Learners aren’t paid equitably. The other contends that a former male assistant superintendent who oversaw student mental health programs created a hostile work environment for older women.
The twin lawsuits stem from Tommy Chang’s tenure as superintendent, which ended in June. Since then, his temporary replacement, Laura Perille, has been trying to overhaul the central offices so they run more smoothly, a process that has included weeding out problematic employees, in an effort to restore public trust and better support individual schools.
The case involving inequitable pay joins a string of cases emerging in Massachusetts since July, when the state’s Equal Pay Law went into effect. That law aims to ensure equal pay for comparable work.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 23 in Suffolk Superior Court, Kim Tsai and Priya Tahiliani contend that while working as executive directors in the Office of English Language Learners their annual salaries of $107,000 were at least 30 percent less than what men made in similar positions in other departments.
For instance, Zachary Scott, who was recently promoted to assistant superintendent for operations, received a $142,000 salary when working as an executive director in the Office of Human Resources, the lawsuit said.
That both women filed the lawsuit while they are employed by the School Department “makes them brave,” their attorney, Benjamin Flam, said in an interview.
“They are both women of color who have not gotten to where they are easily — they worked their tails off,” Flam said.
Tahiliani was eventually promoted to assistant superintendent, but officials refused to pay her the correct salary for several months, the lawsuit said. Both women have repeatedly complained to officials orally and in writing about gender-based pay disparities since 2017, but officials have taken no steps toward remedying them.
Tsai and Tahiliani pursued litigation as a last resort, Flam said. The women are seeking back wages and hope their suit brings equal pay for all women who are doing work comparable to what their male counterparts do.
“Everyone knows this pay disparity exists,” he said, noting city payroll records are public.
The School Department declined to comment.
The other lawsuit was filed Nov. 8 in Suffolk Superior Court by Andria Amador, a 19-year veteran of the school system who serves as senior director of behavioral health services. The lawsuit contends that Amador, 47, and other older women in her office received poor treatment from their boss, Amalio Nieves, who was hired as the assistant superintendent of social emotional learning and wellness three years ago.
“Nieves made it clear to them that he did not value their opinions,” the lawsuit said. “In contrast, Nieves was continually more deferential and respectful to the men that worked under him.”
Nieves could not be reached for comment.
The women eventually contacted union representatives, the director of labor relations, the deputy superintendent who oversees Nieves, and the Office of Equity, which investigates workplace discrimination.
Meanwhile, the situation allegedly worsened. During a December 2016 meeting, Nieves screamed at an older woman “when he believed she was not listening to him,” the lawsuit said, prompting Amador to jump to the women’s defense.
“In response, Nieves became more outraged, slammed the table, and told Amador to sit down and listen,” the lawsuit said. “He told them he was sick of people not agreeing with him and that he did not care who they told, even if they told [his boss]. He then left the meeting, slamming the door behind him.”
Amador and the other woman filed a complaint with the equity office and a grievance with the union. The Office of Equity found that Nieves’s conduct was “unbecoming of a Boston Public School leader” and warned him against retaliating.
But Nieves nevertheless retaliated in an effort to force out Amador, who he viewed as a ringleader, the lawsuit said. He removed her from the decision-making process and meaningful assignments. Then he assigned her to a new supervisor, a woman who routinely criticized Amador, micromanaged her, and left her out of meetings.
In January, the Office of Equity, responding to a new complaint Amador filed, concluded that Nieves had been retaliating against her. Yet the abuse continued. A month later, Amador’s supervisor held a disciplinary hearing against her for insubordination. Consequently, Amador’s staff and funding were cut.
She later told Amador during her performance evaluation that she had “failed to submit sufficient evidence to show that she is meeting expectations.” (Prior to Nieves’ arrival, Amador had received good evaluations and participated on national panels, the lawsuit said.)
Eventually, Amador, experiencing extreme distress, took a leave of absence. She has since returned to work. Her attorney, Joseph Sulman, said the emotional pain still exists. Amador is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages.
Nieves left the school system during the summer.