A Black employee at San Francisco State University has filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging shocking instances of racism from his white supervisor, including being called a “runaway slave.”
In a complaint filed Tuesday in California Superior Court, DeMauriae Vaughn sued California State University, the wider academic system of which San Francisco State University belongs, as well as his former supervisor Karen Rubin and a hefty list of Jane and John Does who Vaughn says failed to protect him from racial harassment.
Vaughn wants relief for punitive damages due to the “continuous and ongoing pattern of behavior,” the lawsuit says.
Vaughn, who joined the university’s Advising Resource Center in 2001, began working under Rubin in 2019. According to the lawsuit, the racism at work was so intense that Vaughn, a former student, “and other non-white SFSU employees…spent their working days in fear.”
Rubin, the ARC’s director, allegedly admitted to keeping a portrait of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee in her office to serve as a “near-daily reminder to SFSU’s black employees of Ms. Rubin’s view of their place in society,” the lawsuit states.
In August 2019, Rubin referred to Vaughn as a “runaway slave” to colleagues and claimed she would have to find a way to wrangle him in a similar fashion to how slave catchers would try to catch enslaved people who had escaped from their enslavers, according to the lawsuit.
The following month, the suit says, Rubin directed her staff to read a passage from a book about a white man teaching Black children in Harlem about respect. When staff members told Rubin that the content was racist, she ignored them, according to the lawsuit.
A probe was launched into the ARC after Vaughn submitted a harassment complaint to the university’s equity and compliance office. After a yearlong investigation that included interviews with 19 witnesses, an independent firm that conducted the probe concluded that “Rubin engaged in unwelcome conduct based on Vaughn’s race, and that the conduct violated [SFSU]’s prohibition on harassment.”
A copy of the investigation was provided to The Daily Beast by Vaughn’s attorney, Arash Sadat. Rubin made racist Asian stereotypes and admonished an Iranian student wishing to take a belly dancing class, according to the report.
Despite the investigation, the lawsuit claims Rubin continued to work at San Francisco State University for several more months “until she left on her own accord.”
Meanwhile, Vaughn says, the alleged harassment and hostility was so bad that he began suffering panic attacks so intense that his doctor advised him to take medical leave.
Sadat declined to provide a comment to The Daily Beast Tuesday on behalf of his client, saying they would not be speaking to the media for the time being.
According to Rubin’s professional website, she started a career in education after teaching “writing-intensive history courses” and courses in “Race & Ethnicity.”
“Student success happens not only by teaching students how to navigate — not just college, but challenges in their lives — but also by ensuring students have consistent and reliable access to a team of support,” Rubin says on the website.
In a statement to The Daily Beast Tuesday, San Francisco State University said the allegations in the complaint “are completely unacceptable and contrary to the values of San Francisco State University and the CSU.”
“DeMauriae Vaughn is a valued member of the SF State community, who has had and continues to have a successful career working in support of our students,” wrote San Francisco State University Director of Communications Bobby King.
“These allegations were immediately and fully investigated by an outside investigator, pursuant to CSU’s Nondiscrimination policy. The administrator resigned from her position shortly before the investigation was finalized and before any personnel action could be taken. The University also took immediate steps to remediate the workplace environment while the investigation was ongoing. Had the administrator not resigned, the university would have terminated her.
“SF State is committed to fostering a safe and inclusive place to work and study, and we are always looking for opportunities to improve. We take seriously training, awareness, intervention and support systems for preventing all forms of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.”
Rubin did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment Tuesday.