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  • Jennifer Burton

Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit Filed Against California Community College

This week in employment law news, De Anza Community College as well as several school officials including the president and the dean (Ms. Lee’s supervisor) face a 53-page lawsuit from former tenured professor, Tabia Lee. Ms. Lee was also the faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice and Multicultural Education at the college in Cupertino. Ms. Lee’s lawsuit alleges that the community college violated her first amendment right to freedom of speech, wrongfully discharged her under California state law, and also violated the California state constitution.

Ms. Lee further alleges in her lawsuit that, “De Anza prefers empty gestures and word gimmicks to ending discrimination on the basis of race. And the only significant action taken by [them] has been to discriminate against and retaliate against Dr. Lee for her failure to conform to race-based stereotypes.”

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Lee is black and dedicated to humanism, encouraging people to not be judged by their race but instead by their character. She also founded an online journal, Free Black Thought, which features authors dedicated to diversity of thought among and about Black Americans. Ms. Lee claims that employees of the college labeled her as not being the “right kind of Black” on multiple occasions, because her beliefs did not align with the college’s stereotypes of diversity and equity.

Criticisms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs in workplaces like this are incredibly frustrating for employees and employers who truly support DEI and are attempting to promote a work environment that makes everyone feel recognized and valued. It’s unfortunate because the allegations in this lawsuit in many ways contradict the efforts of employers that are focused on making improvements and creating a positive work environment.

The concept and intention of DEI programs is to break down barriers to success and combat stereotypes, both those racially motivated as well as those connected to other protected classes, such as age, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Discrimination based on any such protected class is illegal, and the Supreme Court decision earlier this month regarding college admissions reminded many of this fact. It is up to employers to set the standard for diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations, and it is the goal of our law firm to make sure that employees who have not been protected are able to stand up against discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful actions in the workplace.


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