Former teacher at Santa Monica prep school alleges racism, retaliation


LOS ANGELES – A Black former teacher at a private college preparatory school in Santa Monica is suing the institution, alleging she was wrongfully denied a renewal of her contract in 2021 for complaining about racism at a school that she says boasts of its diversity and commitment to minority representation.

Tiffany Wright’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against New Roads School alleges hostile work environment harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and failure to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

A New Roads representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Monday.

Wright was hired by New Roads in August 2018 as a humanities teacher and later taught seventh- and eighth-grade English, the suit states. She also was an advisory teacher and met with her students weekly for advice and counseling sessions, the suit states.

Wright chose to work at New Roads instead of other institutions because of its anti-racist, social justice orientation, and she “wholeheartedly bought into its mission hook, line, and sinker,” the suit states.

However, Wright realized that the school was allegedly divided into two groups, one with students without the need of financial assistance and another with “half-paying/scholarship students,” the suit states.

Those students whose tuition was paid by their families tended to be white and their relatives were influential because they donated money to the school, the suit states. Wright was aware that at least one Black female teacher was fired because she refused to change the grade of a full-paying white student, the suit states.

“The school was cognizant of this differential treatment based on race and still encouraged it, pressing teachers to take better care of the full-paying white students,” the suit states. “The school also pressured teachers to appear and do whatever the parents of full-paying white students wanted, changing including their children’s grades and treating them better than any of the minority half-paying scholarship students.”

When a white colleague of the plaintiff told Wright in September 2019 to “Go back to Africa,” the plaintiff complained to her direct supervisor, who told Wright that the colleague “didn’t really mean it,” the suit states.

The fellow worker of Wright who allegedly made the offensive remark is still on the faculty, according to the suit.

Several days after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by protesters at the US Capitol, the administration told Wright and other teachers to not discuss the incident with students, the suit alleges.

In February 2021, the middle school dean of students gave a PowerPoint presentation at a schoolwide town hall and presented a slide that depicted Vice President Kamala Harris next to an image of a laughing ape, a juxtaposition of images that was “jarring and racially offensive to many students and faculty members, including (Wright),” the suit states.

Wright complained and several weeks later, management announced that the dean would be fired, the suit states. The plaintiff spoke with a school consultant tasked with dealing with racial equity issues but nothing was done about Wright’s racial concerns and the plaintiff was instead scolded by an administrator who told her she was refusing to collegially resolve disputes, the suit states.

Wright was told during an April 2021 meeting with an administrator that her contract was not being renewed, the suit states. When the plaintiff asked if she was being fired in retaliation for her complaints about racism, the administrator replied, “We don’t have to renew your contract. We just decided to go another way,” according to the suit.

About 40 days later, Wright found out that school management had conducted an investigation and found that she allegedly violated the New Roads employee handbook by discussing her own contract and that of another teacher in front of students, which the suit calls a “bogus finding” used to justify the finalized termination of the plaintiff’s employment in June 2021.

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