Diversity-Management Fail: Racist Prank Escalates to Lawsuit at UCLA

Dr. Christian Head was told "not to make a stink" about the humiliating stereotype. Here's how this racial-discrimination lawsuit emphasizes the need for diversity management.

Dr. Christian Head, M.D.A recent racial-discrimination lawsuit is bringing to light the lack of diversity management and accountability at UCLA's School of Medicine. Its administrators failed to take action against students who publically demeaned Black medical professor Dr. Christian Head.


A petition on change.org, started by NAACP national board member Willis Edwards, is rallying the community to support Dr. Head. As of this morning, 83,534 signatures had been collected.

Joking Gone Too Far? Or Racism & Retaliation?

As part of an annual "roast" at UCLA, medical students created an image of a gorilla on all fours with Dr. Head's face. A naked white man—with supervisor Dr. Gerald Burke's face superimposed—was pictured sodomizing the gorilla.

This photo was displayed at a school-sponsored graduation event in 2006 to more than 200 people, which included faculty, professional peers, students and visiting guests. Other slides were also shown that implied Dr. Head was underperforming as a professional.

"I've never had to think about things before, the racial aspect, in terms of white and Black before, especially at work," says Dr. Head in the video. After the image was displayed, "I pulled [the supervisor] aside and I said to him, 'How can you let this happen?'… and he just smiled and chuckled."

Want a Career? Keep Quiet

Other UCLA officials also were quick to dismiss Dr. Head's requests for disciplinary action against the students. He was told by fellow faculty members: "If you want tenure and you make a big stink about this, they're going to crush you."

Dr. Head did receive tenure during this time period. He is the first Black professor to receive tenure in the Head and Neck Surgery department and one of only two Black teaching surgeons on staff. However, his pay subsequently was cut and he claims he was denied prime teaching opportunities that could have advanced his career.

He filed the lawsuit in late April in Los Angeles County Superior Court against The Regents of the University of California, a 26-member board that appoints and governs the university leadership. Foley Lyman Law Group is representing Dr. Head.

UCLA's response to the lawsuit in the Los Angeles Times featured a statement from spokesman Phil Hampton: They had "investigated this matter and found that the evidence does not substantiate the claims of unlawful activity."

Diversity in the Workplace: 3 Ways to Stop Racial Bias

It was UCLA administrators' "lack of action" that hurt the most, explains Dr. Head in the video above.

This need for accountability and mindfulness is just as critical to corporations that are looking to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces for employees.

For more on diversity management best practices, read Diversity-Management Case Studies Reveal Why Companies Rise & Fall in the DiversityInc Top 50. Also, read DiversityInc's Black History Month Facts & Figures and The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for Blacks.