A black former staff member at Mount St. Mary’s University is suing his former employer alleging he was fired last year for dancing at a shopping mall with a student of another race.
Mark Forte also alleges in his Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Thursday that college officials falsely claimed the dance was sexual in nature. His wrongful termination suit seeks unspecified damages.
A college representative could not be immediately reached.
Forte was the director of the MSMU Learning Resource Center for 15 years and his job was to advise and help students, making himself available “all hours of the day and night,” the suit states.
Forte was the only black senior staff member at the college and the majority of his colleagues were white women, the suit states. Forte believed he was viewed by other staff members with suspicion, causing him to feel “isolated and unwanted,” the suit states.
Forte was sometimes subjected to “belittling racial remarks,” including a question posed to him by a supervisor who asked, “Why don’t you be quiet and go play basketball somewhere?,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit states that Forte walked over to the nearby Fox Hills Mall with a group of students, one of whom stopped to buy a day planner at the Victoria Secret store, the suit states. The complaint does not specify the date.
“As a joke, in response to some dance music playing in the mall, (Forte) performed a 30-second mock swing dance with one of the students,” the suit states.
The dance was “a spontaneous satire on the popular television show ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and the dance music that blasted through the mall to entertain shoppers,” according to the lawsuit.
Forte grew up in a culture where dance and music are important and “could not possibly conceive of this dance being inappropriate in any way,” the suit states.
One of the students captured the dance on video and Forte’s dance partner posted it on her Facebook page, the suit states.
But the dance between a black staff member and an adult student of another race “triggered the racist and repressive college administration into action,” according to the lawsuit.
Although there was nothing prohibiting such such behavior off campus and after working hours with the student, Forte was fired effective last Sept. 2 and told his conduct was “incompatible” with the responsibilities of his position as well as with “the college’s values and mission,” the suit states.
“(Forte) was in shock,” the suit states. “The administration was obsessed with the notion that dance was an unwelcome sexual advance.”
Forte was told that dancing “conflicted with the mission of the college and he had to be terminated immediately,” the suit states. “Segregationists had a similar mission.”
MSMU subsequently claimed that Forte was fired “because he was at a Victoria Secret store with two students,” according to the lawsuit.
The college administration labeled Victoria Secret “a sinful place, born of the devil’s temptations, and a place where it was impermissible to wait while friends bought a day planner at the store,” the suit states.
But Forte did not violate the MSMU code of conduct, the suit maintains.
“The fact is that (Forte) was terminated because of his race,” the suit states.
The WASC Senior College and University Commission, in a March 2014 accreditation report, found that MSMU lacked a commitment to support diversity in curricular offerings and hiring practices, the suit states.
The MSMU website states that the institution is a “Catholic college primarily for women” that offers a liberal arts learning experience to a diverse student body.
—City News Service
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