James Franco's former New York University professor, Jose Angel Santana, has filed a lawsuit against the school, saying that he was fired after he gave the actor a D in his class.
Santana is claiming wrongful termination, discrimination and harassment based upon race and color and is suing for monetary, compensatory and punitive damages and other fees. NYU representatives and Franco's spokesperson had no immediate comment about the lawsuit, filed at Manhattan's Supreme Court on December 16 and obtained by OnTheRedCarpet.com.
Franco earned a master's degree in film production from NYU earlier this year. Santana says the actor was a student in his "Directing The Actor II" class around the spring of 2010 and that he gave the actor a D grade as a result of his "poor attendance. Franco, the man says, "had approximately 12 unexcused absences out of 14 total classes."
Santana says that Franco responded to his grade by "making several public disparaging and inaccurate statements" about him, explaining that the actor called his course an "acting class," rather than by its actual name, which he says made people think that he had graded the star's acting abilities, "even though the 'D' was actually in directing actors, and for abhorrent attendance."
Santana says his supervisor, "immediately sided with Franco, and used this incident as an opportunity to further isolate and treat Dr. Santana disparately based on Dr. Santana's race and color," according to the lawsuit.
Santana began working as an assistant visiting arts professor and as Head of Acting at NYU in September 2008. The New Jersey resident, who is of Cuban and African-American descent, says he believes he was "the only full-time professor of color" in his department.
He says he was "afforded less favorable conditions of employment in relation to his predominantly Caucasian colleagues," citing his annual salary of $70,000, which he says was about "$15,000 below the average compensation for full-time Arts Professors, and his "vastly inferior office space," which he compared to a "storage closet," adding that it contained kitchen supplies used by his colleagues.
Santana adds that unlike his peers, he was "forced" to share this office with another instructor. He says his "numerous" requests to be moved to an "appropriate" office were refused.
Santana also claims he was often excluded from department meetings, unlike his "Caucasian colleagues." He says that he eventually went to complain to the associate dean of faculty at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts but that the university ignored his concerns. Santana says he emailed his supervisor in May 2011 about his "disparate treatment" regarding his office and that the man "unilaterally demoted" him as the Head of Acting about a month later, which included a pay decrease of about $3,000.
Santana says he believes this move was "motivated by discrimination and retaliation" and that he does not believe his "Caucasian colleagues" were ever demoted in such a matter. He added that he was later "involuntarily withdrawn" from his teaching duties and committee assignments, barred from faculty meetings and department emails, which he called an "effective exile from the department." He says he never received an annual evaluation.
In August 2011, he received a notice that said he was denied reappointment and was informed that he would be relieved of his teaching and committee duties for the 2011-2012 academic year, to the end of his employment term. He says he was "stunned" and was given no valid justification for the decision.
Santana is an actor himself. He played a boutique owner in the 1985 film "Desperate Seeking Susan," which starred Madonna, and appeared in the 1986 movie "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Santana also had small parts on shows such as "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Miami Vice."
During his time as an NYU student, Franco developed a film called "The Broken Tower" as part of his graduate thesis. He also filmed the movie "Shadows & Lies," which was directed and written by one of his professors, Jay Anania, and starred another, John Tintori, chair of the graduate film department at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
Franco also holds an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University and is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Yale. He also became a college instructor. He began teaching a directing course at NYU this past fall. His 12 students were asked to create a film based on a poem by Pulitzer prize-winning poet, C.K. Williams.
"This class and film was an experiment," student Shruti Ganguly wrote in an article posted on Indiewire.com on December 20. "It was challenging as we were creating something in a way that had never been done before, especially within an academic system."
Meanwhile, Franco continues to act and is in talks to play Playboy founder Hugh Hefner in a cameo role in the new film "Lovelace," a movie about adult film actress Linda Lovelace, who starred in the famous movie "Deep Throat," according to Variety. Amanda Seyfried is set to portray the female star, while Sharon Stone will play her mother, Peter Sarsgaard will star as her husband and Hank Azaria will play a director.
UPDATE on December 22: A NYU spokesperson and Santana's supervisor have responded to his lawsuit.