USC Condones Discrimination, Author Says
LOS ANGELES (CN) - The University of Southern California and its "bigoted" director of the masters writing program refused to promote a Jewish-Iranian author, the lecturer claims in court.
Gina Nahai is author of four novels: "Cry of the Peacock," "Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith," "Sunday's Silence" and "Caspian Rain." The playwright and poet sued USC and Brigdhe Mullins, the director of the Master of Professional Writing Program, in Superior Court.
USC allegedly hired Nahai as an adjunct professor in 1999, about 14 years after she graduated the writing program. Though the school eventually made her a lecturer, it has "crippled" her career in repeatedly denying her a promotion to assistant professor, though she is "the most qualified candidate" for the position, according to the 17-page filing.
"USC has stood idly by, condoning the discriminatory abuse of power that has derailed plaintiff's career, livelihood, and spirit," the complaint states. (1)
USC spokesman Carl Marziali dismissed Nahai's claims. The university is "committed to a teaching and learning environment free from unlawful harassment and discrimination," Marziali sad in an email.
"Ms. Nahai had already made her claims known to the university prior to filing this lawsuit, and the university has determined that they are wholly without merit," Marziali continued. "The university is proud of its diverse and talented MPW faculty, including its director, Ms. Brighde Mullins, and will vigorously defend against these unfounded allegations."
Nahai claims, however, that Mullins was "hostile and dismissive" of Nahai from the moment Mullins took over as director in 2008. Mullins allegedly left images of the Nahai out from university marketing materials, and tried to slash the her hours to below "living wages."
The author attributes these actions to an "evil" prejudice Mullins holds, claiming that Mullins repeatedly referred to Nahai and Iranian Jews as "you people."
In an April 2009 lecture at the Los Angeles Institute for Humanities, Nahai says she was about to give a speech on Iran when Mullins allegedly turned to her and said: "I'm a playwright and a poet: I don't need to know about Iranians and Arabs."
"Mullins made the ultimate scene of disgust she publicly walked out without hearing a word of plaintiff's speech, demonstrating her contempt for the topic, and the speaker," the complaint states.
Three years ago Mullins announced that she planned to change USC's master of professional writing from a terminal degree to nonterminal degree.
Since Nahai was the only faculty member with such a masters, the change "effectively would prevent plaintiff from advancement to the title of assistant professor for not holding a terminal degree," the complaint says.
Nahai says she approached Mullins more than once to discuss the director's alleged discrimination against her and 10 older professors who were allegedly forced out.
She claims Mullins broke down and admitted that she had made a mistake but "again resorted to her 'You People' prejudice," allegedly telling Nahai that Iranian Jews are "very ambitious."
"Yet again, plaintiff was being verbally slapped across the face with the truth that her career and value were being destroyed by the director, having total influence on her career, who was so unequivocally prejudiced," the complaint states.
Nahai says she confronted Mullins last year at her office but says the director, in a "frightening assault," slammed the door in her face.
Among other things, Mullins interfered with Nahai's participation in an alumni association, blocked scholarship opportunities for the author and her students, removed her name from a list of faculty members, excluded her from panels at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and vetoed requests to invite special guests to her lectures, according to the complaint.
USC allegedly rejected Nahai's discrimination claims and advised her to instead leave the college.
"Despite the relentless pressure on her to resign in disgust, plaintiff seeks only to be able to continue to teach, a true love in her life, and thrive in a discrimination free work environment, exactly what our California's anti-discrimination laws and constitutional protections guarantee," the lawsuit says.
Nahai alleges employment discrimination and harassment; retaliation for protesting employment discrimination; failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation; and negligent hiring.
She seeks damages for lost earnings, benefits, bonuses, salary increases, as well as punitive damages and an injunction.
Nahai is represented by Gail Solo of Beverly Hills.