Alison Collins, the San Francisco school board member embroiled in controversy over past tweets, has filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District and all but one of her school board peers for purportedly infringing on her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The suit was the work of three law firms; it incorporates biblical scripture and inspirational sayings throughout, and notably starts with the recitation of the famed Pastor Martin Niemöller quote regarding passivity in the face of Nazi atrocities.
The suit comes in the wake of the school board’s 5-2 no-confidence vote on March 25, stripping Collins of her duties as vice president. That move came after political partisans recently unearthed four-year-old tweets in which Collins, then a private citizen, lamented anti-Black racism in the Asian community. In those tweets, she also used broad generalizations and language that many Asian Americans felt played into stereotypes and negative tropes.
Asian American current and former elected officials said Collins was defensive and unapologetic when confronted on the matter, and virtually every San Francisco elected official has subsequently called on her to step down.
Collins’ suit seeks $12 million in general damages from “each” defendant — the school district plus five board colleagues — plus $3 million in punitive damages from each of her five board member colleagues. That tally comes to $87 million (plus fees and other monies) — but even representatives of the City Attorney’s office were having difficulty parsing the suit’s wording as of press time.
Collins, who is the only Black woman on the board, charges that her colleagues’ vote to remove her as vice president over the tweets “depriv[ed]” Collins of her First Amendment rights.
The board’s punishment following the tweets, the lawsuit says, violates free-speech and due-process rights.
There are “laws mandating that employers refrain from retaliating against employees who participate in protected activity,” the lawsuit states.
Board President Gabriela López, who has opposed the actions against Collins, is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the school board and its members knew that anti-Black and anti-Brown attitudes were prevalent within the district. The 2016 tweets, the lawsuit alleges, referred to those sentiments.
The suit further alleged that the defendants expressed “zeal to silence [Collins’] advocacy for increased admission in Lowell High,” “raided” her Twitter and “launched a scorched earth search for evidence to silence” her.
Two of the five school board members named in the lawsuit, reached today, said they were unaware of the lawsuit.
School board member Kevine Boggess is still processing the situation and seeking legal advice in regards to the lawsuit. He said today that he “respect[s] Commissioner Collins’ right to litigate, if she feels her rights were violated,” although he maintains that he’s done nothing wrong.
Boggess acknowledges that, when it comes to attacks on elected officials, there is a “willingness for a different kind of attacking, dehumanization, and grouping.”
“Anything is in the realm of possibility,” continued Boggess, who joined the board in January. He had not received nor read the lawsuit when first contacted on Wednesday afternoon.
Boggess did add that San Francisco “needs to have a lot more hard conversations and dialogues about the legacy of institutional racism and prejudice in the city, and tensions that exist within communities” and wants to build a path to having more restorative dialogues.
Matt Alexander declined to comment until he reviewed the lawsuit. Other affected board members, including Collins, did not respond to requests for comment.
The school district had not responded by press time.
The lawsuit also argues that Collins was deprived of “liberty” under the Fourteenth Amendment, because the government had “level[ed] a charge” against her “that impairs his reputation for honesty or morality.”
It continued that the school board members, the lawsuit alleges, robbed her right to “property” under the Fourteenth Amendment, through “conspiracy” and “malicious, slanderous comments.”
She and her family has “suffered, and continues to suffer” more than 25 of these afflictions: “substantial losses in earnings, significant loss of reputation, severe mental, and emotional distress” and “injury to spiritual solace,” the lawsuit states.
This lawsuit drops at a time when the San Francisco school district has been grappling with numerous controversies, including scrapping Lowell High School’s merit-based admission process and the proposed renaming of 44 schools. Critics argued that the controversies delayed school reopenings, and some launched a recall effort targeting López, Collins and Moliga.
San Francisco plans to begin reopening elementary school classrooms in mid-April, more than a year after their closure due to the pandemic.
The suit — and the revelation of Collins’ past tweets — also comes amid heightened anti-Asian violence locally and nationwide, inciting fears among some Asian parents to send their kids to school.
The lawsuit contends that Collins was a private citizen when she published several tweets on Dec.4, 2016. The tweets said that many Asian American students benefit from the “model minority BS” and that they “use white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead,” as well as calling them “house n*****s.” Collins issued a public apology for the “pain” her tweets caused the Asian community, though critics quickly noted she did not apologize for their meaning or content. She has since argued that her tweets were “taken out of context” and were an attempt to stand up for Black students in the district.