LACC professor faces uphill climb in effort to prove racial discrimination
September 5, 2019
LOS ANGELES—Attorneys for a Los Angeles City College professor and the community college district that he claims racially discriminated against him made opening statements Thursday at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
Dr. Mohamed Youssef has accused both the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) as well as professor Sean Phommasaysy, who is the life sciences department chair at Los Angeles City College (LACC), of denying him a full-time, tenure-track position and retaliating against him for complaining about it.
The plaintiff is seeking $10 million in damages.
Youssef's case centers around a racially-charged comment allegedly made by Phommasaysy in 2012. According to Youssef, Phommasaysy once said, "Middle-Eastern people are scary, argumentative, and short tempered."
Attorneys for LACCD and Phommasaysy were quick to point out that this comment has never been documented. Furthermore, the defense argues that the comment, having undergone an "evolution" over the years in order to fit the plaintiff's changing narrative, is unreliable.
While Youssef's lawyers have portrayed their client as a victim of the machinations of college administrators, who circumvented the usual hiring process when they offered the full-time microbiology professorship to newly-hired Anna Le, the defense contends that Youssef simply did not perform as well as the other candidates during the first round of interviews.
Dr. Youssef was "bested by six people," said the defense team as they showed official notes made by the college's hiring committee.
Youssef's team, of course, will have to prove that this decision was fueled by racial animus, which LACCD seems confident they cannot do.
"Who's the one thinking about race?" LACCD's lead attorney challenged the jury to consider.
According to LACCD, the only race connection, other than Phommasaysy's alleged 2012 comment, is Youseff's own linking of Anna Le, who is Vietnamese, to Phommasaysy, who is Laotian. Comparing Youseff's case to a game of "Jenga," the defense characterized the race connection as a weak piece of the puzzle that will cause everything around it to crumble.
In a side comment that could reveal the more fundamental issues behind LACC's hiring process, the defense noted that one school official had testified earlier that he had been ordered to trim hundreds of classes from the college's course offerings due to "low enrollment."
But issues such as low enrollment, course offerings, job security for professors, and public education funding are not at the center of this trial.
"This is a race discrimination case," defense attorneys reminded the jury.
Regardless of the broader conflicts surrounding Dr. Youssef's complaint, his team carries a very heavy—and very specific—burden of proof.