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White Penn State professor who resisted race-based grading files discrimination lawsuit


Pennsylvania State University employees racially discriminated against a white professor who resigned in opposition to race-based grading and diversity trainings that argued white people are racist, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

Zack De Piero, who taught English at the school’s Abington campus, left in 2022 after working there for four years, according to the suit, which describes his departure as a “constructive termination,” arguing the school more or less forced him to resign.

The suit alleges “Penn State pressured De Piero to ensure consistent grades for students across ‘color line[s]’ otherwise his actions would demonstrate racism and he would be condemned as a racist.”

The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism is suing Penn State and several current and former staff members for racial discrimination on De Piero’s behalf. The lawsuit alleges De Piero was “individually singled out for ridicule and humiliation because of the color of his skin.”

For example, the lawsuit cites a June 2020 Zoom conference during which then-Assistant Provost for Educational Equity Alina Wong allegedly “expressed her intention to cause Penn State’s white faculty to ‘feel the pain’ that George Floyd endured.”

The provost allegedly “led the faculty in a breathing exercise in which she instructed the ‘White and non-Black people of color to hold it just a little longer — to feel the pain.’”

“In order to maintain good standing with the college — and effort that includes building and maintaining interpersonal relationships with colleagues, and particularly, supervisors — full-time faculty need to attend meetings like these,” De Piero wrote in an email to The Fix. 

“Antiracist Writing Program meetings” included sessions called “White Teachers are a Problem,” “How to be an Antiracist,” and “The Myth of the Colorblind Classroom: White Instructors Confront White Privilege,” De Piero said.

Even more, “Penn State Abington’s very aggressive so-called antiracism culture existed beyond the bounds of those meetings,” according to De Piero.

Even more, “I observed and experienced racial discrimination, harassment, retaliation, free speech suppression, and then that ultimately led to my constructive discharge last summer,” De Piero told Fox News.

“…It’s important to me that Penn State get held accountable for not just violating my civil rights but the civil rights of all the other faculty, staff, administrators and event students,” De Piero said.

The lawsuit points out that De Piero earned much of his experience as a teacher working in inner cities schools and with at-risk youths. He told Fox News he was insulted after his superiors judged him based on his skin color.

“I think there is almost sort of like a religious, cult-like environment where you have this original skin, in this case — I’m white, I need to repent for that sin,” he said. “…I think they were waging a psychological war campaign, and they are trying to break people — and they almost broke me — but they didn’t.”

De Piero has since worked as assistant professor of English in the humanities department at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., since August 2022, according to his university bio and LinkedIn profile.

In September 2021, “De Piero filed a complaint or ‘Bias Report’ with Penn State’s Affirmative Action Office” regarding racial discrimination, according to the lawsuit filed June 15 in Pennsylvania district court.

On October 18, 2021, De Piero’s supervisor and a fellow professor allegedly “led a ‘white privilege’ meeting for the writing faculty,” according to the complaint.

De Piero objected to the subject matter and inquired of the presenters “what it meant to bring ‘equity’ into his classroom,” which allegedly left one of the presenters “feeling uncomfortable.”

The Associate Director of the Affirmative Action Office allegedly called De Piero to a meeting about his bias report, stated there “is a problem with the white race” and told him that he might have mental health issues.

A university official has also instructed the professor to “apply different grading standards based on race” as part of “an antiracist act,” the lawsuit alleged. De Piero’s supervisor, Liliana Naydan, also “discouraged grading students equally regardless of race as somehow an overt act of ‘racism.'”

Some defendants also allegedly “instructed De Piero that [grading] outcomes alone . . . demonstrate whether a faculty member’s actions are racist or not,” without regard to students’ objective performance.

“For me, the racism is in the results if the results draw a color line,” Naydan allegedly said.

Nayden also rejected De Piero’s bias report in a letter in November of that year.

Additionally, she had “instructed her writing faculty to teach that White supremacy exists in language itself, and therefore, that the English language itself is ‘racist’ and, furthermore, that White supremacy exists in the teaching of writing of English, and therefore writing teachers are themselves racist white supremacists,” according to the lawsuit.

De Piero received his annual performance review on June 8, 2022, which allegedly contained unusually poor marks on the “service component” and “teaching rating.” The complaint alleged the “negative performance review was clearly retaliation for his protected speech and for his complaints of racial harassment.”

The defendants in the lawsuit include PSU, its Board of Trustees in their official capacities and numerous faculty members and administrators in their official and individual capacities.

The Fix emailed De Piero’s counsel, PSU, the PSU Board of Trustees, and all but one of the defendants named individually. The Fix could not obtain contact information for the remaining defendant.

Editor’s note: The article has been amended to add comments from De Piero.

MORE: College upholds firing of whistleblower who shared ‘antiracism’ training with media

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Terrance Kible is a law student at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Duquesne University. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism. Terrance also writes for the law blog Legal Insurrection, where he was a 2023 College Fix summer intern. Terrance previously wrote for Campus Reform.