After a Lower East Side high school principal was accused of sexually pressing his groin against a teacher’s leg at a staff holiday party, a Department of Education lawyer told witnesses not to discuss the case, records show.
John Colin, a special-ed teacher at the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, filed a sex-discrimination complaint with the state Division of Human Rights against his boss, Principal Derek Premo.
Premo approached Colin and two female teachers at Pianos, a Lower East Side tavern where the Dec. 19., 2019, gathering took place.
Premo pressed his groin against Colin’s leg, under the bar-height table — and kept it there during the entire 20-minute conversation, the complaint states.
“It was very uncomfortable because I could feel his penis on my leg, and he was leaning his face very close to mine. . . VERY uncomfortable, ” Colin stated.
“Then he started telling me about how he and his husband liked to have parties,” Colin wrote, adding that Premo emphasized the word “parties” and was “looking directly into my eyes when he said it.”
Colin named the two fellow teachers as witnesses, saying he discussed the incident with them the next day.
He put off filing a complaint during the pandemic, when he worked remotely, but did so this year after uneasy feelings resurfaced during a sex-harassment seminar.
Weeks later, DOE lawyer Sari Goldmeer Rella wrote to both witnesses, saying she needed assistance “to prepare a defense” to Colin’s complaint, and asked them to call her.
She told them not to discuss the matter with Colin, adding: “If you are contacted by anyone from the (State Division of Human Rights) do not discuss the case and refer that individual to me.”
That raised the eyebrows of Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad School education professor David Bloomfield.
“It appears they’re inappropriately using their supervisory authority over the witnesses to suppress evidence in the state investigation,” he said. “They can’t keep an employee from speaking to an investigating authority. They’re apparently using their leverage over the teachers to protect themselves.”
DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon would not say whether Rella is defending the DOE, Premo, or both.
“Harassment of any kind is not tolerated at the DOE, and we are thoroughly investigating this disturbing allegation, while fully cooperating with the state’s investigation,” she said.
Colin, 56, retired this summer, saying in his complaint that he feared retaliation by Premo and Superintendent Vivian Orlen.
Premo could not be reached for comment.
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