Former employee sues claiming she was terminated because she was not the ‘right kind of Black person’

July 22, 2023

A former tenured professor at De Anza Community College in California has filed a 53-page lawsuit against her former employer alleging discrimination, wrongful termination and violation of her right to free speech.

The former professor, Tabia Lee, was the faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice and Multicultural Education at the school.

She alleges she was terminated in June 2023 “because of her viewpoints and protected public speech and because of De Anza and the District’s ideological opposition to Dr. Lee’s humanism in the classroom.”

According to the lawsuit, Lee is Black and dedicated to “humanism and civil rights.” She alleges she teaches people to not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Alternatively, she claims that De Anza is “hostile to this concept.”

She is suing De Anza and also several school officials, including the president and her supervisor, the dean.

She alleges, “Defendants, acting within the scope of their employment and as employees of the District and De Anza, repeatedly informed Dr. Lee that she was not the ‘right kind of Black person.’”

Lee founded Free Black Thought, which is described as “an online journal and community of heterodox scholars and public intellectuals dedicated to the rich diversity of thought among and about Black Americans.” She claims that those who “publish in FBT are sometimes accused, as Defendants accuse Tabia Lee at De Anza, of not being the ‘right’ sort of Black voices, of being ‘Oreos,’ ‘whitesplaining,’ perpetuating ‘white supremacy’ (by somehow publishing Black authors), and other racist stereotypes and tropes.”

She claims that De Anza retaliates against anyone who deviates from the orthodoxy which she alleges identifies, “’Whiteness,’ ‘White supremacy,’ and ‘White colonialism’ as the root of all ills.” She alleges, “Black women are expected to think the same (or to shut up).”

Lee alleges she was accused of “White speak,” being “transactional,” and “Whitesplaining” and that she was criticized for “expressing even mainstream viewpoints in her teaching at De Anza.”

She alleges she was terminated for opposing the school’s expectation that the “physical Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education was for students, faculty and staff of color only,” using terms such as “Latinx” or “Filipinx,” and objecting to replacing the term “women” with “womyn.” She also opposed referring to a mandatory “land acknowledgment” that she claimed portrayed historical inaccuracy and was “performative.” She also opposed what she claims was the school’s unwillingness to include anti-Semitism in its anti-racism programs.

She alleged, “De Anza prefers empty gestures and word gimmicks to ending discrimination on the basis of race. And the only significant action taken by Defendants has been to discriminate against and retaliate against Dr. Lee for her failure to conform to race-based stereotypes,” among other allegations.

Her suit alleges violations of the First Amendment to the Constitution, violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, wrongful discharge under California state law and violation of the California state constitution.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs have been criticized for engaging in what some view as racial stereotypes, preferences and quotas, in addition to focusing only on race and gender.

These criticisms are unfortunate because most DEI programs are focused on creating an inclusive environment for all employees. Divisive programs such as some of the allegations described in the lawsuit are rare, but troubling, and bring an ideology that is myopic and divisive.

Earlier this month, 13 Republican Attorneys General sent a lengthy letter to the Fortune 100 CEOs reminding them of their obligation to not discriminate based on race following the Supreme Court’s decision on college admissions. Senator Tom Cotton also sent a letter to 51 law firms suggesting they give advice to their clients on nondiscrimination.

Discrimination based on race or any other protected factor such as age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, etc., in the employment setting was not legal before the Supreme Court decision, and it remains illegal today.

Organizations need to make sure that all their employment practices are inclusive and not exclusive. The concept of DEI is to eliminate barriers to success, as well as stereotypes.