Former Jefferson Elementary School principal sues school district, alleges racial discrimination

Catherine Wallin/Staff

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Former Jefferson Elementary School principal Sonya Martin filed a lawsuit against the Berkeley Unified School District on Thursday, alleging that the district condoned racial discrimination against her.

The lawsuit states that Maggie Riddle, the BUSD director of schools, allegedly treated Martin differently than other non-Black faculty, micromanaging her work, deflating her performance evaluations and telling teachers to report to her about Martin’s work. The lawsuit further alleges that Riddle recommended to BUSD that it “unjustifiably” demote Martin from the position of principal to classroom teacher and encouraged BUSD to terminate Martin’s employment about August 2016.

“We have full confidence in our director as a seasoned, effective, and equity-minded educational leader,” read a district statement released by BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress.

In addition to BUSD, Martin is suing BUSD superintendent Donald Evans in an official capacity and Riddle in an individual capacity.

Additionally, Riddle allegedly made derogatory and racially charged comments about Martin in public places, met secretly with Martin’s staff behind her back, implied to others that Martin was not trustworthy or capable and belittled her work to parents and faculty, particularly those who were not Black, according to the lawsuit. When Martin was on medical leave in 2016, the lawsuit alleges that Riddle falsely told BUSD administrators and students that Martin had “abandoned her job.”

When Martin filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the lawsuit states, Riddle allegedly retaliated against her and “began a campaign to destroy (Martin)” by terminating her employment and working to have her teaching credentials revoked.

BUSD filed a complaint with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing about Sept. 20, 2016, according to the lawsuit.

In one instance, the lawsuit alleges that Riddle created an event that caused Martin’s school email to be disconnected and then criticized Martin to others for not responding to emails related to her duties.

“Riddle’s actions were done with fraud, malice and oppression, for which (Martin) is also entitled to punitive damages in addition,” the lawsuit alleged.

As a result of the discrimination, the lawsuit alleges, Martin has lost wages, lost her employment and benefits, suffered emotional distress and had to endure hospital and medical expenses, among other damages. In total, Martin is suing for an amount of at least $25,100, in addition to costs and fees.

“While we do not comment in detail on personnel matters publicly, we can say that in this case we believe our evaluation and employment processes were performed thoroughly and fairly,” read the BUSD statement.

Jessica Lynn is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.

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  • nobody

    Let me guess, Sonya Martin got her position because Affirmative Action, proved to be completely incompetent in that job, got fired because they could no longer clean up her mess, and then sued?

    • StanFromSomewhere

      Probably about as good of a guess as any.

    • Maurice Patapon

      Why would you guess that nobody? Do you know something we don’t know? Because your comment sounds racist.

      • nobody

        Have you bothered to read the article? Have you noticed the complete lack of colleagues defending her? Have you bothered to search for her to see her qualification?
        It’s not that hard to see the truth when you’re smart enough to go looking for it. But you’re an sjw, truth is a dirty word for the likes of you

        • Ken Geis

          The article is based on scant information. You’re reading too much into it.

          You might want to check out California’s Proposition 209.

          • nobody

            And you really believe that they don’t listen to their sjw’s?

          • Ken Geis

            Is “they” the Daily Cal? I think it’s too early for them to report the community opinion on this. I’m sure that they could find a quote from someone who is not related to the issue if they wanted to. Good for them for not sensationalizing the issue.

            The Daily Cal, being a student/university news outlet, reports OK on city government and particularly its relation with the university and students, but students who are part-time reporters do not have the effort to report on the residential community. For a community perspective, look at Berkeleyside. There’s no article there yet because there is very little story.

          • lspanker

            The amount she is suing for ($25K) suggests she doesn’t really have a case, because it’s barely worth the trouble of most attorneys. Seems she’s not really pushing for her job back, just a little bit of “going away money” until she lands the next gig.

          • Ken Geis

            You don’t understand the legal system, but I agree that she’s not looking for her job back.

          • lspanker

            I understand the legal system better than you do. If there was any real proof that she was a victim of bona fide racism, she would stand to get a much larger payout. OTOH, $25K is around the threshold of what most public agencies in California will pay in return for an agreement not to discuss the issue in public, because it’s cheaper than getting their attorneys involved and saves them any bad publicity. It’s about the least expensive way to make a problem go away, and nothing more.

      • lspanker

        Something tells me that anything you don’t like is “racist” in your mind…

  • wandagb

    What’s going on in this school district – Berkeley Hi principal resigns with no explanation*, Junior Hi teacher runs around advocating violence**, and now this elementary school principal claiming racial discrimination?


    • BerkeleyPariah

      BUSD at its best! THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT IS OVER it didn’t work, now lets get back to educating the kids that live in Berkeley and stop making excuses for everyone!

  • ahahahahaha what a joke. I hope the judge laughs this attention hungry troll out of court