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UCLA prof suspended after refusing lenient grading for black students demands $19 million-plus in damages

A professor who sued UCLA after he was suspended in the wake of the George Floyd-Black Lives Matter riots after refusing a request to grade black students leniently will soon get his day in court.

UCLA accounting lecturer Gordon Klein is demanding well over $19 million in damages in a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial March 4 in a Santa Monica courthouse.

The two sides have engaged in legal wrangling since September 2021, when Klein first filed suit — including a failed attempt by UCLA’s lawyers to get the case tossed by summary judgment.

The causes of action to be hashed out next month are breach of contract, retaliation, false light, and negligent interference with prospective earnings.

Klein’s attorney, Steve Goldberg, told The College Fix in a telephone interview this week the lion’s share of damages are based on the estimated loss of Klein’s expert witness practice income.

“That practice went to ashes right after he was suspended,” said Goldberg with the law firm
Markun, Zusman & Compton.

UCLA’s media relations division did not provide a comment on the lawsuit despite repeated requests this week.

Klein, who joined the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 1981, continues to teach as a full-time lecturer there. But his lawsuit alleges he made most of his money as a litigation expert.

He has testified, for example, in several high-profile court cases, including Michael Jackson’s wrongful death, Apple’s acquisition of Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones, and the valuation of General Motors’ assets in bankruptcy.

“He was one of the top damages experts in the country who was historically bringing in well over $1 million dollars a year and trending upwards when it happened,” Goldberg said.

Klein’s lawsuit alleges the controversy and bad press that surrounded him in June 2020 made him untouchable as a litigation expert.

The crux of the controversy took place following Floyd’s death, when Klein received a request asking that he provide academic leniency for his black students enduring emotional duress.

It was a relatively common request at the time among college students at several universities as the nation was gripped with racial tension and rioting.

Klein responded June 2, 2020, by asking how he was supposed to identify black students in the online class; whether he should also go easy on white students from Minneapolis; how much leeway to show half-black students; and how the student feels about Martin Luther King Jr.’s admonition to not evaluate people based on “the color of their skin.”

A screenshot of Klein’s response was distributed widely and decried by students in messages and on social media.

In response, Anderson School Dean Antonio Bernardo wrote in a June 4, 2020, memo to the campus community that Klein was suspended and an investigation was underway.

While not naming Klein specifically, Bernardo’s memo referred to the high-profile incident as “troubling conduct by one of our lecturers.”

“Conduct that demonstrates a disregard for our core principles, including an abuse of
power, is not acceptable,” he added. “…I deeply regret the increased pain and anger that our community has experienced at this very difficult time. We must and will hold each other to higher standards.”

Klein was reinstated less than a month later, but his lawsuit alleges the damage was already done. A petition calling for Klein to be fired garnered more than 21,000 signatures, stating: “We ask for your support in having Professor Klein’s professorship terminated for his extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response to his students’ request for empathy and compassion during a time of civil unrest.”

A petition in support of Klein launched a week later drew nearly 77,000 signatures.

Klein’s lawsuit also alleges emotional distress, as he received death threats by phone and email, including antisemitic tropes. Under the causes of action, Dean Bernardo may be held personally liable for punitive damages.

UCLA, in court documents, has argued Bernardo’s memo did not take issue with Klein’s decision not to leniently grade black students — but rather his tone in response to the request.

However Klein’s attorneys argue that what UCLA did was basically punish the educator for following state and federal law that forbids discrimination on the basis of race.

“It’s a big case, not only because of the effect on Gordon Klein … but it obviously has important implications for academic freedom at the university level, which is a big hot topic around the country,” Goldberg told The Fix.

MORE: UCLA removes lecturer for questioning proposal to give black students preferential grading

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.