Drama teacher alleges racial bias in Pomona College's denial of tenure

A former theater professor at Pomona College is suing the Claremont school, alleging that she was denied tenure and dismissed because of discrimination against Latinos and women.

Alma Martinez, who is also an actress with a long resume of stage and film roles, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Superior Court in Los Angeles with the help of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She contends that she had a stellar teaching and theater-directing career during six years at the college and that should have qualified her for a permanent tenured position.

The college has denied bias. “Pomona College has one of the most diverse faculties, in terms of both gender and race, of any college of its type in the country," said school spokesman Mark Wood. "The tenure review process at Pomona is designed to be both exhaustive and fair. However, since this matter is now under litigation and involves private information about a former employee, we cannot comment further.”

At a news conference at MALDEF headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, Martinez said she decided to file suit not only for her own possible reinstatement and potential financial damages but also to “ensure that this will not happen to anyone else.” 

She contended that she helped expand enrollment in theater classes at Pomona and served as a mentor to many students. “I did all that was asked of me at Pomona College and in many cases I felt I did more,” she said.

Martinez, who was born in Mexico, has a doctoral degree from Stanford; her acting roles include the play and film version of “Zoot Suit,” which was considered a landmark in Chicano-oriented theater.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said the case had national significance because Martinez, before her dismissal, was an inspirational role model for young Latinos and women in academia. “When these students see well-qualified scholars denied tenure, it only discourages their pursuit of a career in academia, perpetuating longstanding patterns of underrepresentation in university faculty,” he said.


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