Former Smith College Employee Alleges Racial Discrimination, Civil Rights Violation in Lawsuit

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Jodi Shaw has become an influential figure in opposing critical race theory (CRT) equity staff training. As a life-long liberal, she became prominent in 2020 when she stood up to her alma mater and employer, Smith College, for requiring CRT equity training.

Now Shaw is suing Smith College for violating her civil rights.

Her case is important because depending on how the court decides the case, it will impact future civil rights cases brought against an employer, said Shaw.

“I am asking the court to decide, OK, which set of principles are we going by here? Are we still interpreting civil rights law in the manner in which it was written, which does include white people, which says, anybody of any skin color can be discriminated against,” Shaw said during an interview with EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders.”

“Or is the court going to decide, ‘Actually, we’re going to go along with this woke stuff, and we’re going to reinterpret civil rights law,’” said Shaw.

Most cases involving a university and its employees would be a Constitutional, freedom of speech issue, but Shaw said her case is different.

“I am alleging that I was discriminated against based on my skin color, that this is racial discrimination, and a racially hostile environment, amongst other things,” said Shaw. “My case is a Title VII civil rights complaint.”

“This kind of woke stuff is a civil rights violation. This is racial discrimination, and this is a civil rights violation. … It’s very simply racism. Racism is an adverse action taken against you in your employment because of your skin color.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as race, in hiring, promoting, and firing.

The civil rights law as it was written should protect all people from racial discrimination, no matter the color of their skin, said Shaw.

Epoch Times Photo
The Smith College campus in Massachusetts is seen in this undated image from Google Maps. (Google Maps)

“But they’re operating on a whole different set of assumptions,” she said. “Now this woke ideology, that’s a whole other animal, and so this case really is important.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Smith College for comment.

Exhausting All Options

“I ask that Smith College stop reducing my personhood to a racial category. Stop telling me what I must think and feel about myself because I feel like you do that a lot. I know you do that a lot, and I need you to stop doing that,” said Shaw.

Shaw said before deciding to sue the school, she exhausted all the other avenues to have the administration listen to her concerns about CRT trainings and that they were violating her civil rights, were racist, and were sowing division. So she posted a video on YouTube airing her grievances.

Her video got a lot of attention from the public, the college community, and then the Smith College administration, which did not respond directly to Shaw but sent a letter to the wider college community.

The administration understood her video as a critique of the CRT equity initiatives, but Shaw said she was actually speaking specifically about how the trainings impacted her.

In the letter, the president of the college said Shaw was protected by federal law to share her grievances and advocate for a better working environment.

Shaw made another video in response to that letter.

“I said something about don’t ask me to disempower students of color by sending them the message that they are somehow so oppressed or don’t have the same abilities as their white counterparts and can’t achieve the same thing as their white counterparts,” continued Shaw.

Again, Smith College did not directly address Shaw’s concerns, but many people in the community contacted her privately, saying they felt the same discomfort with these equity and inclusion initiatives.

Shaw was told that her discomfort was “white fragility,” proving she had white privilege and racist tendencies.

After Shaw’s second video, the administration sent out an internal email, telling faculty and staff not to speak with media outlets and to send any questions to the administration.

Epoch Times Photo
Jodi Shaw, a former Smith College employee, in a screenshot from her Oct. 27, 2020, video titled, “Dear Smith College: I Have a Few Requests.” (YouTube)

There was retaliation from the administration: she was investigated for using her professional email account to forward school emails to her private account, which documented her process of trying to get the administration to address her concerns about CRT, being half-time furloughed, and having to deal with hostility from many co-workers.

The college asked her to settle the matter out of court and “amicably.”

In the negotiations, Shaw asked the school to apologize to her and other staff for the harm they had caused and to end the CRT equity trainings, to which they said no.  They then offered her a financial settlement if she would drop the case against the college.

She chose to pursue the civil case against the school and continue speaking out against the equity initiatives, for which she has faced backlash.

“It was very hostile. If it was hostile before, it was very hostile now to me, and I decided that there was simply no way I could continue to work there, so it was a constructive dismissal,” said Shaw.

Choosing Freedom Over Comfort

“But in the end, I remember agonizing in front of my woodstove in the middle of winter,” said Shaw. “In the end, I thought I would regret taking a settlement.”

After making the tough decision, Shaw said she found meaning and spiritual satisfaction from the thousands of emails she received from people who said they faced similar situations in their workplace.

“They had been harboring this feeling that something was not right. Something’s not right, and they felt like they were the only one kind of questioning, ‘Is there something wrong with me that I feel this way?’” said Shaw.

She felt empathy for all those who shared their stories with her and wanted to help.

“I know how it feels to be the only person or feel like you’re … the only person, like all evidence, tells you you’re the only person that’s having an issue here, that seems to be upset by this. It felt like I had a responsibility to help them in some way,” said Shaw.

Epoch Times Photo
A screenshot from the Smith College website shows a message about equity and inclusion. (Screenshot/smith.edu)

A Desire to Help Others

This desire to help is the reason she continued putting up videos documenting her process, Shaw said. She wanted others to feel empowered to stand up against this type of ideology.

The reason her story is different from others who are standing up against CRT or equity and inclusion trainings is because it resonated with liberals, she said.

“But to see another person like me, in my tribe, the way we categorize talking about this … it was almost like it gave them permission to be like, ‘yes, this is wrong. Here’s this other liberal saying it,’” said Shaw.

Her advice to anyone wanting to voice their concerns and oppose these race-based equity trainings is to first have a well-functioning support system in their community.

“It takes a long time to get to that point of understanding, not only that you’re not wrong, but that this stuff is wrong, and to assess your resources, if you will, once you’ve decided you want to take action, what kind of action do I want to take,” said Shaw.

“If they’re still confused about social justice, and ‘Am I doing the right thing,’ and ‘Am I a bad person for questioning this,’ then … you’re not even close to being able to withstand, standing up and taking action to prepare yourself,” said Shaw.

The Hero of Intellectual Freedom

Shaw was awarded the Hero of Intellectual Freedom award in 2022.

She said she realized that “intellectual freedom is only really freedom if we have ownership over our intellectual process in the first place.”

In the case of the CRT equity trainings, she tried to go along with them, even though her feelings were telling her they were wrong.

“I had effectively allowed an outside authority to hijack my intellect and interpret a feeling for me, that was not in my best interest.”

Shaw said she has long examined the stories her intellect tells her in response to emotions.

In that process she asks herself, “Do I just unconsciously adopt somebody else’s interpretation there” and tries to push out what’s not hers and develop her own story, she said. “That is intellectual freedom, or that’s how you get to intellectual freedom.”

“What I learned at Smith, and what I learned in thinking about intellectual freedom is that freedom is not something that somebody grants to you, or gives to you. It’s something you do,” said Shaw, “and it’s something you practice over and over again until you get it right.”

Shaw has concluded that the reason people like her are able to stand up against overwhelming community and societal pressures is that they have spent a long time examining their thinking.

“Some of us were already free, or already working on freedom, so when the time came, we were able to step up in a way we had already prepared, for that moment,” said Shaw.

Masooma Haq

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Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.

Jan Jekielek

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Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, “American Thought Leaders.” Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film “Finding Manny.”



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