Jacquelyn Bolman, who was fired from California’s Humboldt State University last fall, is demanding that a jury determine whether the university discriminated against her because of her race, national origin or affiliation with Native Americans.
Bolman, the former director of HSU’s Indian Natural Resources Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP), filed a lawsuit May 7 against the university, naming top administrators, the board of trustees and 10 additional individuals who allegedly discriminated and retaliated against her. Bolman, who worked at the university for nine years, claims she was terminated because of her “long history of opposition to discrimination against people of color.”
In her complaint, filed in Humboldt County Superior Court, Bolman alleges HSU violated her rights to free speech and procedural due process, engaged in disparate treatment and discriminated against her because of her race or national origin—a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She also claims administrators retaliated against her for statements she made regarding the university’s “stereotyped thinking and racial and ethnic animus toward Native Americans.”
According to the complaint, Bolman was fired October 9, 2014, for written comments to a state oversight committee in which she was critical of HSU’s “long history of differential treatment of Native American and other minority students, faculty and staff on account of race, ethnicity and ancestry.” Specifically, Bolman claims she was never given a raise in her nine years of employment, that the university cut staff and funding to Native American student programs and that “numerous people of color have been terminated under suspicions circumstances.”
Bolman’s termination triggered outrage among the minority communities at HSU. Students protested on campus and organized a sit-in movement in January to demand an end to the “regular assaults” on the Native community. The group also demanded Bolman be reinstated and that the university commit to greater diversity in hiring.
University President Lisa Rossbacher responded to the students and in a letter she hand-delivered in January pledged her commitment to “working with Native American students and tribal nations.” She also publicly acknowledged students’ sacrifices for their beliefs.
“We are all part of a larger community,” Rossbacher’s letter stated. “Our focus needs to be how we work together, rather than against each other.”
Bolman is demanding a jury trial for the case, in which she is seeking reinstatement to her former position at HSU, punitive and special damages and attorney’s fees.
A spokesman for HSU declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, but said the university stands by its decision to terminate Bolman.
“We respect her right to file a lawsuit,” said Jared Petroske, a public information officer for HSU. “We will vigorously defend our position.”
In their answer to Bolman’s complaint, attorneys for HSU deny all the allegations, claiming the defendants acted “under legal right or in good faith belief in the existence of a legal right” and that Bolman was fired for “reasonable factors other than her race, national origin or retaliation.”
In a separate complaint filed June 5, HSU sought to remove the case from superior court to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming that the alleged violations of federally protected civil rights fall under the jurisdiction of federal court.
Bolman has a clear track record of assisting Native people and causes. At HSU, she gained a national reputation for bringing minority students into the science, technology, engineering and math programs (STEM). Bolman has a Ph.D. in environmental science and has spent years working as a mentor to Native students.
Bolman, who now serves as the tribal administrator for the Wiyot Tribe of the Table Bluff Reservation, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Her attorney, Peter Martin, also did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.