Everett School Superintendent Priya Tahiliani and Deputy Superintendent Kim Tsai filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the Everett School Committee and the City of Everett.
The suit alleges the mayor and School Committee discriminated against them because they are women of color and were cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into Everett's discriminatory practices. The suit also says the mayor had cameras installed in the ceiling of Tahiliani's office without her knowledge, which the FBI has since removed.
“The institutional racism championed by Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his cronies for the School Committee was and still is palpable,” the lawsuit says. “Mayor DeMaria had relatively little involvement with the School Committee until Tahiliani and Tsai — two non-white women — were appointed. Their appointment upset his apple cart."
The suit also says DeMaria did everything he could to keep Tahiliani and Tsai from doing their jobs.
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"Tahiliani and Tsai were subjected to demeaning and racist comments, abusive and disparate treatment, and unjustified and highly subjective discriminatory and retaliatory attacks," the suit alleges. "Their main offense? Being women of color who refused to maintain a 'Whites only' hiring policy for district level jobs."
DeMaria's office released a statement denying the allegations.
"Mayor DeMaria and the City vigorously deny Ms. Tahiliani’s and Ms. Tsai’s allegations. The credible facts of the matter demonstrate that Ms. Tahiliani and Ms. Tsai were never subjected to discrimination of any kind by the City and the Mayor and there is simply no evidence to the contrary. The City of Everett and Mayor DeMaria have long demonstrated, in numerous ways, that they will not tolerate discrimination of any kind against anyone on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, or any other protected class. They have worked tirelessly to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for all residents and employees of the City," the statement reads in part.
The statement continued with a list of city efforts meant to promote those values, including the creation of a Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and a Diversity and Equity Advisory Board, among others.
"The residents of Everett well-know that Everett is an amazing and passionate city with a vibrant and diverse culture, involved citizens, and an active political climate with passionate leaders and community members who strive to make Everett a better place for all. We strongly believe that teamwork between and among the governing bodies and the City and School leaders is the best way to address such passionate dialogue," the statement continued.
The School Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, voiced support for Tahiliani.
"It’s well known that finding high quality superintendents today is a challenge many school districts are experiencing. Priya Tahiliani is considered among her colleagues as an excellent superintendent who would be among the best candidates in any superintendent search," he wrote to NBC10 Boston.
The suit was filed two weeks after the School Committee voted 6-4 on March 6 not to extend Tahiliani's contract beyond the next school year, despite widespread support from students, parents and other community members. DeMaria was one of the six committee members who voted against renewing her contract.
"What we know is the impact she has made in such a short amount of time since her tenure on the lives of the students and the community, especially in the context of access and equity," said Rev. Myrlande Desrosiers of the Everett Haitian Community Center. "There was no explanation, nothing that would justify that decision. I think it's a tragedy."
Tahiliani became the first person of color to lead the Everett Public School District in 2019, taking the helm just before the COVID-19 pandemic started. She was awarded the President's Award by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in 2022 for her courageous leadership.
MASS Executive Director Thomas Scott described her at the March 6 School Committee meeting as "Somebody who is bright, competent, visionary and has a certain set of principles in terms of students and student outcomes. She has left a mark for someone who has been in that job for so few years she has certainly left an impression on people."
Even some Everett School Committee members didn't seem to understand the decision not to keep Tahiliani.
"What kind of puzzles me is the last couple years, the committee as a whole has voted proficient, meaning she is doing a good job. I can't understand it," Committee Chair Mike Mangan said at the meeting two weeks ago. "I think she's done a really good job and deserved the contract extension, and I'm disappointed."
Last year, the Globe reported that Tahiliani had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, accusing DeMaria of "blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation" against her, alleging racism and sexism.
Those School Committee members who voted against Tahiliani's contract being renewed two weeks ago seemed to suggest the superintendent was responsible for intimidating and retaliating against opponents.
"I'm sick of the bullying and intimidation," School Committee member Millie Cardello said. "My vote tonight is going to be totally based on what I know, what I feel, in my heart, is the right thing to do, not because anyone has promised me anything, threatened me with anything."
Tahiliani's current contract ends in March of 2024.
“While the School Committee’s decision to reject renewal of my contract is devastating, I remain proud of all we have accomplished,” Tahiliani said in a statement released after the March 6 meeting. “I will continue to devote my remaining time as superintendent to leading the schools which are the foundation of our community. With students like ours, the future of Everett is bright.”