Alison Collins sues school board for $87 million

For those who haven’t been following this saga, a recap. Alison Collins was the Vice President of the San Francisco school board. She supported the board’s effort to rename schools (based on shoddy research) and also voted to end selective admissions at San Francisco’s Lowell High School. Importantly, Lowell’s strict admissions had led to it being disproportionately Asian, and many Asian parents whose student attended were upset with the board’s decision.

Some of the parents formed a group to oust Collins and two other members of the school board. They call themselves Recall SF School Board. About three weeks ago, that group was shown a thread of tweets which Alison Collins had published back in 2016. The old tweets contained some inflammatory comments about Asian parents and students. For instance:

Collins issued a semi-apology but refused to resign or even to delete the tweets. Meanwhile, Mayor London Breed and nearly every member of the SF school district joined the push to oust Collins as did two members of the SF School Board.  Eventually, even the LA Times editorial board called on Collins to resign. That culminated in a 5-2 vote by the school board to strip Collins of her title and her committee assignments. However, she is still a voting member of the board.

Last week, in response to the vote, Collins filed an $87 million lawsuit against her colleagues on the board:

A lawsuit filed by San Francisco school board member Alison Collins took everyone by surprise, including her own colleagues who are also being sued by her. Collins says her First Amendment Rights were violated after she received a vote of no confidence for posting derogatory remarks against Asian Americans.

Collins has set a price, $87 million as punishment for allegedly having her first amendment rights violated.

So is this going anywhere? Mission Local wrote an amusing piece about the lawsuit Collins and her attorneys filed, calling it “an amazing document.”

Reading through Collins’ complaint, however, she may end up with nothing. This lawsuit is an amazing document, and not in a good way — and all the more so because three different law firms were involved in its crafting. That’s on par with four writers being credited with the screenplay of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights…

“This isn’t really a lawsuit,” summed up UC Davis law professor Ash Bhagwat. “It’s more of an op-ed pretending to be a lawsuit.” …

Similarly, Collins’ claim of “intentional infliction of emotional distress” from her colleagues struck scholars as bizarre in the context of elected office. “This is absurd,” said Joel Paul, a UC Hastings professor. “You can’t complain when people express opinions about you that are hostile. That is part of the job of a public official.”

If you’re interested in reading the full document it’s here. Even putting aside some of the colorful language in it, Collins appears to have no real case. Mission Local notes there is a previous case from 2010 in which Ken Blair, a member of a school board in Washington state, was similarly stripped of his role as Vice President and sued the school board on First Amendment grounds. Here’s how that case turned out:

Blair lost. At every level. The 9th Circuit panel ruled that Blair’s First Amendment rights were not chilled, and his colleagues were entitled to strip him of his leadership position in favor of a “vice president who better represented the board’s majority view.”

The ruling finds that while “the First Amendment protects Blair’s discordant speech as a general matter; it does not, however, immunize him from the political fallout of what he says.”

In short, there is a nearly identical case decided a decade ago which went completely against the plaintiff. So the chance that judges are going to ignore that precedent and hand Alison Collins millions of dollars is somewhere near absolute zero. Her attorneys must know that but went ahead with this anyway. This has all the hallmarks of a made-for-media stunt. I’m sure working with Collins is going to fun from here on out.