Lawsuit Alleges Overt Racism at One of San Diego's Oldest Deaf Services Organizations

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An advocate for San Diego’s deaf community is suing one of the region’s oldest deaf services organizations, alleging staff discriminated against people of color and catered to white clients over minorities.

In a newly filed lawsuit, Jasmine Sandifer claims managers and others at Deaf Community Services of San Diego repeatedly disparaged her and other people of color and did so openly and without any repercussions.

“I would spend a lot of my time at work angry,” Sandifer told NBC 7 Investigates. “Frustrated, upset, didn’t know how to fight it, but I was determined for my clients because they didn’t have the opportunity to fight for themselves.”

Sandifer, according to the lawsuit, was hired in November 2018 to work as a Deaf Advocate and Client Support Specialist. Months into her employment, Sandifer claims she noticed white clients received better care and more services than Hispanic or Black clients.

“I had a really hard time promising things to my clients that I knew I wouldn’t be able to deliver to them,” said Sandifer. “And that was really heartbreaking to me.”

In the following months, the lawsuit cites examples of racist remarks allegedly heard inside the office including “surprise” when “the inside of [a black client’s] home was clean and smelled good…,” or statements such as,  “You can take the black girl out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the black girl.”

“I still have no words to even explain how deep that pain is, and still is to this day,” said Sandifer.

The lawsuit states Sandifer sent internal memos and emails asking for fair treatment both personally and for the clients. 

“I no longer think [the only other black employee at DCS] and I should have to continue to adjust ourselves, our personalities… to fit DCS or make DCS comfortable,” wrote Sandifer in an email which was included in the lawsuit. “DCS has to change, not us. We have to elevate and change the narrative; but morally, DCS needs to do better.” 

Weeks after sending the email, Sandifer says she was terminated.

“I was angry,” said Sandifer. “I was very upset.”

Now, through her lawsuit, Sandifer is looking to change the culture at Deaf Community Services.

“I just want my community to have exactly what they deserve,” said Sandifer. “It’s a fight just to get an interpreter. It’s a fight just to be able to try to hear in the hearing world. Whether you’re trying to find a job as a deaf person, or trying to go to school and everybody is speaking. It’s a struggle. And if you’re the only deaf agency, you should do better.”

Deaf Community Services sent NBC 7 Investigates the following statement attributed to executive director Patricia Sieglen-Perry:

It has come to the attention of DCS that a recently terminated employee has made unsubstantiated and false allegations of mistreatment of Black employees at DCS. DCS has and continues to enforce strict policies prohibiting any form of discrimination. 

Currently every organization in the U.S. is conducting an audit of their policies and operations in regards to both actual and perceived discriminatory practices within their organizations.  DCS is fully vested in this process and is having all staff participate in trainings to further educate them to all aspects of discrimination that people of color have, and continue to experience in society and some workplaces. 

DCS supports all movements that promote equality, whether through Black Lives Matter, Me Too, or Deaf Empowerment movements. DCS was founded upon and continues to stand for equality for Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, sex, gender, religion, national origin, language, or any other attribute or characteristic. The bottom line is that DCS supports positive change resulting in equal access for all people. 

DCS has a zero tolerance policy for any employee of DCS using pejorative terms of any kind. All reports of such conduct are taken seriously and investigated. Swift appropriate actions are taken to educate, remediate, and resolve the concerns raised in any such report.  Resolution may even include immediate termination. 

DCS is bound by State and Federal laws that prohibit disclosure of confidential employee and client information. Terminated employees often have a difficult time accepting their separation from their employer and may attempt to damage their previous employer in any way possible including disseminating false and unsubstantiated claims. 

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