S.F. State employee sues Cal State over racial harassment charge

A lawsuit accuses San Francisco State University officials of allowing a white administrator to remain on staff despite evidence that she harassed a Black employee with racist behavior, including referring to him as a “runaway slave” when he took the day off.

DeMauriae Vaughn, an academic adviser at San Francisco State University, sued California State University trustees and his former boss, Karen Rubin, for unspecified damages in San Francisco Superior Court. Although Vaughn originally filed the suit on June 1, he amended the complaint Tuesday.

Vaughn’s suit says university officials repeatedly ignored his complaints about Rubin, which began in 2019 after her arrival, but eventually hired a Berkeley law firm to investigate.

The campus “did not initiate an investigation into her misconduct until October 2021 — two years after Mr. Vaughn’s initial complaints and three months after he submitted a written complaint,” said Vaughn’s lawyer, Camron Dowlatshahi of the Los Angeles law firm Mills Sadat Dowlat.  

The report by the Oppenheimer Investigations Group, released on May 25, 2022, found a “preponderance of evidence” to uphold Vaughn’s allegations that Rubin referred to him as a “runaway slave,” used images from the Confederacy in her work, and, on one occasion before meeting with him, instructed Vaughn to read a book about a white man teaching “manners and respect” to Black children.

The investigation concluded that Rubin racially harassed Vaughn in violation of university policy but did not “discriminate” against him or make false statements about him.

San Francisco State officials condemned Rubin’s actions and praised Vaughn in a statement Tuesday. 

“The actions alleged in the complaint are completely unacceptable and contrary to the values of San Francisco State University and the CSU,” the statement said. “DeMauriae Vaughn is a valued member of the S.F. State community.” 

Despite the confirmed racial harassment, however, university officials kept Rubin on staff for “several more months until she left of her own accord,” according to Vaughn’s lawsuit, which says he had panic attacks “due to Ms. Rubin’s daily racist harassment, hostile behavior,” and San Francisco State’s unwillingness at the time to “take his complaints seriously.”

When Vaughn took medical leave in January 2020, Rubin threatened to fire him, which led to him staying on leave for a year, the suit says. It also  accuses the campus of waiting six months to comply with Vaughn’s request to transfer out of Rubin’s department. 

Vaughn says in the suit that despite the investigation’s findings, San Francisco State “failed to reprimand Ms. Rubin, who continued to work at SFSU for several more months before leaving.”

San Francisco State officials defended their handling of the issue.

“These allegations were immediately and fully investigated by an outside investigator,” the university said in its statement, noting that if Rubin had not resigned, she would have been fired.

The statement said Rubin resigned “shortly before the investigation was finalized.” When a reporter asked for the date, a campus spokesperson said she actually resigned on May 26, 2022, a day after the report was released, and continued to work through June 10. The spokesperson said the university could not have disciplined her until after the deadline for her to appeal the investigation’s outcome, which was after her final day.

Dowlatshahi disputed this account and said his client believes Rubin “remained at the university for a significant amount of time after the release of the report” and has seen no evidence to the contrary.

“The university has (given) two different dates,” Dowlatshahi said. “We’ll get to the bottom of it in discovery.” 

Related Information 

Race & Ethnic Discrimination | Disability Discrimination


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