Racial Harassment/Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Sweetwater Union High School District

March 15, 2024 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
African-American female high school teacher was subjected to a "hostile, offensive, oppressive, [and] intimidating work environment," including multiple instances of the "n-word," for years.

Attorneys with McKenzie Scott PC have filed a complaint (case number 24CV0493) and demand for jury trial on behalf of a former high school teacher citing numerous instances of race-based harassment and discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Plaintiff Lateefah Brown, who worked as a science teacher at Otay Ranch High School, endured multiple incidents of racial harassment and discrimination beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2023. Examples of the harassment (among the eight incidents documented in the claim) include racist messages and defacing of her personal property with offensive messages including:

  • "u a b*tch ass nig**,";
  • "Pussy," "Foot," "Nig**,";
  • A classroom eraser purchased by Ms. Brown with the word "nig***" written on it;
  • A student desk in her classroom with the word "nig***" carved into it;
  • A caricature of a monkey saying "hey monkey" on the white board at the front of her classroom.

  • Ms. Brown asked school officials to take action "to stop these attacks." She and fellow teachers pleaded for "systemic change" within the district, for training on how to deal with "anti-Black" speech and conduct, and for support in building an environment where all "staff and students are welcomed regardless of their race, gender, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation." Her employer often failed to acknowledge those requests entirely. The district took over three weeks to reply to one of Ms. Brown's pleas for a "swift, serious, high level response." In the eventual reply, an Asst. Superintendent noted he was "monitoring [her] situation" and invited Ms. Brown to participate in a "Black Minds Matter" advocacy group so she could "share" her story.

    No meaningful action to condemn the offensive behavior or to prevent future attacks was taken by Ms. Brown's employer after each of the eight separate incidents was reported. Ms. Brown, who students describe as "a great teacher," and a "loving, smart, strong & committed leader," suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the racist attacks in her classroom at Otay Ranch High School.

    Statement from Lateefah Brown:

    "The lack of support from SUHSD in the face of repeated hate speech made me feel unbearably alone, silenced, and unsafe. Since 2020, I was treated as if I was at fault for what was happening to me in the classroom. Each incident pushed me deeper into feelings of despair and anxiety. The support of my fellow ORHS science teachers and my amazing students was essential in helping me remain in the classroom for as long as I did. But ultimately, the district's refusal to take any meaningful steps to stop the hate and ensure a safe work environment for me was too much. I was exhausted of going to school afraid to be in my own classroom. I hope that sharing my experiences will result in real change. All Sweetwater teachers and students deserve better."

    One of her attorneys, Michele McKenzie, emphasized that, "Ms. Brown loved being a teacher. She loved her students and peers." But, "What she didn't love, what was intolerable, were the racial epithets and racist imagery she was repeatedly subjected to in her own classroom. What was completely unacceptable was the failure of those in positions of power to condemn the offensive conduct and prevent it from recurring. The district completely failed to stand up in the face of hate. Sadly, from 2020 through 2023, because the racist conduct continued and continued, Sweetwater was given opportunity after opportunity to say publicly that it was wrong, to say it was unacceptable, to say that it would not be allowed. They were given the chance over and over again to say hate will not be tolerated. They refused to do so. They failed Ms. Brown. And, as a result, they failed her students and our community. Sweetwater lost an amazing and well-loved teacher. We all suffer because of that."

    The complaint seeks compensatory damages for emotional harm, special damages, and punitive damages.

    CONTACT INFORMATION:

    For more information, please contact McKenzie Scott PC Outreach Coordinator:
    Jason Kitchen at 517-974-4724 or Jkitchen@mckenziescott.com


    McKenzie Scott PC is a San Diego-based civil rights and criminal defense firm founded by former federal public defenders Michele A. McKenzie and Timothy A. Scott two dedicated trial attorneys with over 20 years of experience fighting for the little guy.

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