Monday, March 20, 2023     Volume: 24, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on April 12th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 6

Head Start teacher sues Community Action Commission for racial discrimination


A former teacher for the Head Start program—which provides math and early reading assistance to children from low-income families, as part of Santa Barbara County’s Community Action Commission—is suing the commission for racial harassment and discrimination, according to court documents.

Tandeka McCann, a 44-year-old black woman and Santa Barbara County resident, was hired by the Community Action Commission in 2001 to teach for Head Start. McCann was terminated in December 2015, and alleges in court documents that she experienced racial harassment during her last few years on staff with the commission.

A damages complaint claims that Adeline Romero, a cafeteria cook, used “explicitly racial language” with McCann, including calling her a “black rat,” “gorilla,” and “monkey” in both English and Spanish.

“Ms. Romero also intentionally frustrated and humiliated [McCann] in front of her students by singling those students out and refusing to provide them prompt cafeteria service,” the complaint states.

On top of that, McCann alleges that her former direct supervisor, Shonna Martin, often called McCann an “angry black woman” and accused black women of having difficulty controlling their anger.

Community Action Commission Executive Director Fran Forman told the Sun the commission has retained legal counsel and will be defending.

“We deny all the claims made,” Forman said. “[Community Action Commission] is built on respect for all cultures, races, and ethnicities, and we do not tolerate [disrespect] from any of our employees.”

Still, the complaint states McCann “was subjected to harassment over a period of several years by supervisory and non-supervisory employees.”

It continues, “this harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of plaintiff’s work environment and render it hostile.”

McCann claims in the complaint that she reported Romero’s and Martin’s comments to human resources and Head Start’s program manager, but no apparent corrective action came of McCann’s complaints.

Difficulties culminated in the fall of 2015, when on Nov. 2 one of McCann’s particularly difficult students allegedly kicked and spit on McCann, then climbed on the classroom furniture and began removing her clothing. McCann claims in the complaint that she sought assistance from other commission employees, and in the meantime recorded a video of the student’s behavior “in an attempt to document the child’s behavior so [McCann] could get more support in the future.”

McCann was shortly thereafter placed on administrative leave and, ultimately, fired for violating community policy against photographing or video recording students without parental consent. The complaint said other commission employees would regularly take photos of their students and post them to the Community Action Commission Facebook page without issue.

McCann filed her complaint on March 29, and is seeking compensatory, special and general, and exemplary and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and other lawsuit costs. A case management conference is set for Aug. 28.

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