Lesbian athletic director accuses Manhattan school of discrimination

Eliana Armijos served as the athletic director at Grace Church School from 2013 to 2022.
Eliana Armijos served as the athletic director at Grace Church School from 2013 to 2022.
Eliana Armijos

An out lesbian woman who formerly served as the athletic director of a private religious school in Manhattan is speaking out and accusing the school of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, and race after she said she was pushed out of her job and replaced by her subordinate.

Eliana Armijos said she enjoyed years of success at the helm of the middle and high school sports program at Grace Church School, an independent K-12 school in the East Village, where she said she was the only gay and Latinx woman of color to serve as the school’s athletic director. During her tenure, Armijos helped introduce high school athletics to the school — and the sports program went on to bring home multiple championships under her leadership.

Everything changed, however, when Armijos reported to work for the first day of preseason sports on August 22 of last year. That day, she was informed by the school’s administration that she was being demoted from athletic director to director of high school physical education. She had served as athletic director of the high school since 2013 and worked for the school since 2007.

Armijos was shocked. She had just finished hiring coaches for all the sports teams in July, compiled team schedules, coordinated school buses, and completed other tasks to prepare the school for the upcoming season. She already signed a contract for that school year, and she said the terms of the contract required a 90-day notice of cancellation by either party.

Armijos filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights accusing the school of violating New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Armijos’ complaint specifically blamed head of school Robbie Pennoyer and chief financial officer Susan Austin for discriminating against her. 

I was replaced by my associate athletic director, who is a white male,” Armijos told Gay City News in a phone interview alongside her attorney, Edward Pichardo.

The associate athletic director, Tim Quinn, was appointed the new interim athletic director, and the school recently announced that Quinn was elevated to permanent athletic director.

The school, Armijos said, claimed to have demoted her because several parents and co-workers complained about her work performance and because she allegedly showed favoritism to the girls high school basketball team, according to her complaint.

The Grace Church School's high school campus in the East Village section of Manhattan.
The Grace Church School’s high school campus in the East Village section of Manhattan.Google Maps

“Their justification for the demotion were incidents that had already been resolved even before she received a contract for the 2022-23 academic year,” Pichardo told Gay City News.

During the time leading up to the demotion, Armijos said Quinn had asked to share her title and be co-athletic director. She said Quinn was upset that he was not getting enough value and praise — even though Armijos said Quinn’s basketball team lost every single game in the 2021-22 season.

Armijos said she complained to the previous head of school that Quinn was undermining her and would not perform his assigned duties. By the time of her demotion, however, Pennoyer was in charge.

Armijos worked her way up through the ranks of the high school sports world over the course of several years. A former college basketball player, she went on to become the athletic director of Grace Church School’s middle school before she said she “created the high school athletic program from scratch.” 

A spokesperson for the New York State Division of Human Rights declined to comment on the case, telling Gay City News that the division “cannot confirm or deny or comment on complaints.” A spokesperson for the Grace Church School did not respond to an email or return a voicemail seeking comment for this story. Pennoyer did not respond to an email request for comment. Austin also did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

Armijos believes that she would not have been demoted if she were a white male.

“I’m seeing this as an opportunity to speak up and make sure this kind of treatment doesn’t happen to anyone else — especially women and people of color,” Armijos told Gay City News. “I work in a male-dominated field. I’m the only Latina. I think other schools and institutions can see this is not the way that this should have ever happened.”

Armijos said her health deteriorated and she suffered emotional distress in the aftermath of the demotion, which forced her to go on medical leave. She utilized paid sick leave and some family/medical leave, but then she said the school subsequently placed her on unpaid leave after asserting that she had exhausted all of her time off. 

“They then began questioning the veracity and completeness of the proof that I submitted from my doctor,” she said in the complaint. “The work environment was too hostile for me to return, even as the director for high school physical education, and I sent GCS written notice that I considered the demotion a constructive discharge.” 

She said she went on to seek a severance agreement with the school, but the negotiations were unsuccessful.

Armijos and her legal team are now preparing a rebuttal to the school in response to each point the school made in its justification for the demotion.

“They breached my contract for no real reason,” she said. “The way they did it was callous and careless… I was shocked and blindsided and very hurt.”