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Jury Rejects Claims of Former Vista Head in Reverse Discrimination Suit

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday May 23, 2006

A federal civil jury in Oakland has rejected claims that the Peralta Community College District practiced reverse discrimination, gender discrimination, and retaliation when it failed to renew the contract of John Garmon, the former president of Vista Community College in Berkeley.  

In addition, the same jury ruled that then-Peralta trustee Darryl Moore—now a Berkeley City Councilmember—did not defame Garmon in remarks Moore made about the former college president in a Berkeley Daily Planet article in June of 2004. Moore was named individually by Garmon in the lawsuit and would have been personally liable for the damages had the jury found against him. 

Garmon, who is white, filed the lawsuit against the district in the fall of 2004. He served as Vista president for three years since 2001 until Peralta trustees voted not to renew his contract in May of 2004. He now is a professor in the English Department at College of Alameda, a Peralta District college. 

In his lawsuit, Garmon said that when he was hired by Peralta, he was told by district officials it would be long-term. He claimed that “but for [my] race, Caucasian, [my] contract with Peralta would have been renewed and [I] would not have been removed as President.” 

He also claimed that he was terminated “because of his complaints of reverse discrimination and his advocacy for fair practices and procedures.”  

While the jury ruled that Garmon had proved that his “opposition to decisions or practices [in the college district] that he reasonably believed were racially discriminatory was a motivating factor in [Peralta’s] decision not to renew his contract,” the jury also ruled that the district had other “lawful reasons” for firing him. The jury awarded Garmon $1 for past and future emotional distress.  

Attorney Larry Frierson of Calistoga, the outside counsel the Peralta District hired to represent both Peralta and Moore in the lawsuit, said that he was only authorized to say that “the district is pleased with the verdict,” and could make no other comment. 

Garmon’s attorneys, Wells & Hopkins of Tiburon, could not be reached for comment.  

In a June 4 Daily Planet article written by then-staff reporter Matthew Artz, Moore denied the reverse discrimination claims, saying that Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris “had been talking to Garmon for months about concerns over his performance,” that Garmon “knew he wasn’t going to be renewed,” and that “the vote [that rejected the renewal of Garmon’s contract] had nothing to do with [Garmon’s] race and everything to do with his performance.” 

In the same article, Moore said that Garmon had “dropped the ball” on fundraising for Vista’s new downtown campus, and had failed to build community support for the college’s then-upcoming 30th anniversary celebration. 

Garmon later wrote Moore asking him to “correct the record and apologize” for what Garmon called the “false, misleading and incriminating statements” Moore made about him in the article. 

While the federal jury ruled that Garmon had proved that the statements made by Moore in the Daily Planet article were false, it also ruled that the former college president had failed to prove that Moore knew at the time the statements were false. 

Moore said by telephone, “I’m glad that this is over, it ends my chapter with Peralta,” and declined further comment.