On August 31, Davia Temin ’74, a member of the Swarthmore Board of Managers, resigned from her position on the Board after Kaitlyn Ramirez ’17, a former employee of Temin and Company — the crisis management firm that Temin founded and currently runs — filed a civil lawsuit on August 7, 2020 against Temin and her company. In the complaint, Ramirez alleges that Temin engaged in harassment and discrimination — on the basis of sex, race, color and national origin — towards her and failed to provide her fair compensation.
“I have stepped aside [as a member of the board] so as to not to have an alum’s lawsuit be a distraction to the school, as I plan to fight this web of lies and misinformation forcefully,” Temin wrote in an email to The Phoenix.
Temin served as a member of the Board from 1996 to 2000 before returning in 2013.
Incidents recounted in the complaint, amongst others, include not paying Ramirez for working beyond 40 hours a week and paying her less than non-Black employees of equal seniority, directing racist and sexist remarks at Ramirez and other women of color, criticizing Ramirez’s appearance, requiring her to work despite disabilities and other health issues, not crediting her for work done on projects such as the #MeToo index, making her complete menial tasks, and hitting her.
The 77-page complaint was filed in the Southern District of New York. Keenan and Bhatia are representing Ramirez. Sonal Bhatia ’03, one of the firm’s partners, graduated from the college with a degree in English literature.
Temin graduated from the college with a degree in honors art history. She is credited with creating a #MeToo index, which tracks allegations of sexual misconduct against ‘high profile’ people and has been cited in articles in major news publications such as CBS and Bloomberg.
Ramirez first became involved with Temin and Company in early 2016 when she participated in the college’s externship program with the company. According to the website of Temin and Company, the firm was started in 1997 and its mission is to “…help corporations, professional services firms, and other institutions define and strengthen their public image…”
After completing the externship and graduating from the college with a degree in psychology in May 2017, Ramirez returned to the company where she was employed from June 2017 to October 2019, first as an intern and later as a research assistant and manager, marketing and research.
Ramirez first publicized her allegations against Temin in a submission to the BlackAtSwat Instagram page on June 26.
“I hesitated when considering whether or not to draft this statement…” Ramirez wrote in the post. “At Swarthmore, there is a false narrative of empowerment that tells you any abuse you suffer must stem from your inability to advocate for yourself. This woman is on the Board of Managers of Swarthmore, and until the end, I couldn’t stand up for myself. But I can’t sit with the knowledge that one day another Black woman could walk into that and become stuck, too.”
While Ramirez had initially intended to reach out to career services and the Board about Temin’s recruitment of students through her relationship with the college, she says that she — and two other alumni who were former employees of Temin —ultimately did not reach out to the college because of how busy they were.
“So I, along with two of my former colleagues, one was a Swattie and another was a Swattie who had interned Temin and Company, had actually been meaning to speak with Career Services or the Board about how [Temin] treats her employees… And because of the holidays and the pandemic, the goal kind of fell by the wayside,” Ramirez said.
Yet Ramirez ultimately shared her story because she believed that doing so would protect other women of color from experiencing the same misconduct.
“For me, a sense of urgency remains to get my story out in order to protect the people who would be vulnerable to be recruited by Davia Temin, particularly other young women of color at Swat and other schools,” Ramirez said. “[My story] is about the abuse of power and people ignoring it…my main goal in posting it to BlackatSwat was to protect future young women of color who might find themselves in the same circumstances.”
Temin has been active in the campus community since the creation of the program in the 1970s. According to Nancy Burkett, Director of Career Services, Temin served as an externship host as recently as January 2020. Temin has served as an externship host to over 70 students.
According to the complaint filed, an associate dean from the college recently reached out to Ramirez regarding an investigation into Temin’s behavior towards her employees.
“Recently, Temin’s conduct toward interns, externs, and/or employees has come under investigation from Swarthmore College. An Associate Dean of the College reached out to Ramirez and other former interns/externs/employees of Temin & Co. about the investigation, but the outcome of the investigation has not been revealed,” the complaint states.
Barbara Pham ’17, a friend of Ramirez who had no prior knowledge of the complaint before it was filed, read the complaint and created a petition on August 24 that had five stated demands for the college: removing Temin from the Board, denying Temin the ability to recruit alumni or students using information from career services, rendering her ineligible to serve as an externship host, dissolving business contracts between Temin and Company and the college, and issuing a public statement condemning Temin and Company’s labor practices.
Currently, the petition has over 400 signatures. Pham created the petition as a means of pressuring the college to take action against Temin.
“I sat down and thought about what type of sway Swarthmore would have in order to curb this. Swarthmore wouldn’t have the sway to make her treat her employees in a legal manner and pay them for the hours that they work,” Pham said. “But they [Swarthmore] would certainly have the power to unseat her from the Swarthmore Board of Managers. They would certainly have the power to disqualify her from acting as an externship host…”
While Ramirez is clear that she doesn’t blame the college for her work experience at Temin and Company, she wishes that others had informed her of the company’s work environment.
“I want to make it clear that the only person that I blame for my work experience with Temin is Ms. Temin. But I do believe someone at Swat must have had some kind of inkling that something was going on here. I just wish someone would have warned me,” Ramirez said. “It wasn’t until after I left and started voicing [concerns about] some of the treatment [that] I experienced that several people told me they weren’t surprised.”
On August 30, another Instagram post, including links to the petition and the complaint, was submitted to BlackatSwat by an anonymous source.
Just days later, one more submission regarding Temin was posted on the Instagram page.
“So…whatever happened to that white woman being removed from the board? Where’s Swat’s response? We are waiting,” an anonymous source wrote.
The college has yet to release a public announcement on Temin’s resignation from the board or the ongoing lawsuit.
“…given that Swarthmore College is not a party to the suit you referenced, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on it any further,” Andy Hirsch, Vice President of Communications, wrote in an email to The Phoenix.
Temin maintains that the allegations filed against her are unfounded.
“I have worked incredibly hard to forge new paths for women professionals, and — finally, 24 years ago — to start my own company, with the express purpose of helping people and organizations through adversity and crisis, helping to protect their reputations and their truths, and always, always seeking to do the right thing,” Temin wrote in the email.“The lawsuit’s allegations are completely shocking – a web of lies and misinformation, and an overall malicious work of fiction.”
Pham expressed that the petition’s objective went beyond Temin’s alleged misconduct and that the issue highlighted a broader issue of white women exploiting Black women.
“I don’t think Temin’s actions are some isolated incident, you know, of powerful rich white women taking advantage of Black women. You know, it’s certainly not the first time that a white woman has done this, and it’s not going to be the last,” Pham said.
Pham also criticizes the college’s lack of official response to both the lawsuit and the petition.
“[Swarthmore’s] responsibility to its students doesn’t end after they graduate. And our responsibility to each other doesn’t end when we leave the school.”
Correction: September 10, 2020, the article incorrectly listed that Temin served as an externship host from the 1970s to 2019. The article has been edited to clarify that Temin served as an externship host in 2020.