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French teacher claims school fired her because of age

age discrimination French teacher FASNY
Image via FASNY website

A 64-year-old French teacher claims that the French American School of New York fired her because her age and seniority cost the elite private school too much, and then replaced her with a younger, lower-paid foreign teacher with a temporary work visa.

Jessy Kort of Mamaroneck is demanding $750,000 from FASNY in a complaint filed Dec. 14 in U.S. District Court, White Plains.

First she was demoted, and then she was fired, according to the lawsuit, “due to her age and seniority.”

FASNY spokesperson Elizabeth Ryan said the school is “committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive working environment for our faculty and staff, free from discrimination of any kind. As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to provide additional details.”

FASNY was founded in 1980 and has 800 students, from nursery school though grade 12, on campuses in Mamaroneck and Larchmont. It offers the International Baccalaureate and the French baccalaureate programs.

Kort majored in French literature and linguistics at the University of Paris – the Sorbonne – and also earned two advanced degrees.

She worked for FASNY for 26 years, from 1994 through this past August.

By the 2018-19 school year, she claims she was one of the most senior and highly compensated teachers, earning a base sum of $96,294, annualized, for 36 hours a week, as well as health insurance and a retirement plan contribution of 9% of her pay.

In March 2019, when her contract came up for renewal for the next school year, she was eligible for $98,226 salary. Instead, she was demoted “without cause” to part-time status at $90,041 for 33 hours a week. She signed the contract “under economic duress,” the complaint states.

Despite the demotion, “neither her actual hours nor her dedication decreased.”

This past March, she was demoted again “without cause” and cut back to 26 hours a week at $72,006, for the 2020-21 school year. This time she protested, according to the complaint.

She claims that high school principal Boualem Maizia cited her age and compensation and said FASNY was experiencing financial difficulties.

“You cost more than a young teacher,” Maizia allegedly said, and “the age of the captain counts and that’s why we put you on a part-time schedule.”

Again, she signed the contract “under economic duress.”

Also in March, the complaint states, FASNY posted a notice of an H-1B visa application for a part-time French language teacher. In May, the school announced that it had hired the teacher for the next school year.

Then on June 22, FASNY revoked Kort’s contract for 2020-21, according to the complaint, citing Covid-19.

She was given a list of 107 employees “selected to participate in the school severance program” – FASNY’s euphemism, Kort claims, “for firing faculty.”

Six people on the list were fired, according to the complaint, all older than the average for the listed employees.

Kort also claims that FASNY received a $1 million Covid-19 relief loan under the Payroll Protection Plan, and used that money to hire her “younger and cheaper foreign replacement.”

The H-1B visa program was originally created to fill positions in the workforce with highly skilled individuals who couldn’t be found in the U.S. But employers have exploited the visa program, according to reports by the Center for Immigration Studies and the Economic Policy Institute, to outsource jobs with cheaper foreign labor.

Kort’s lawsuit does not address the legalities of the visa program. She says FASNY violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the New York Human Rights Law, and breached the 2020-2021 employment agreement.

She intended to teach French fulltime at FASNY until at least age 70, according to the complaint, “which she was fully capable of doing at the highest levels of competence.”

She is demanding $750,000 for lost pay and benefits.

Mamaroneck attorney Richard W. Cohen represents her.

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