An employee who was fired last spring from the pro-Bernie Sanders group, Our Revolution, for comments some in the group viewed as anti-immigrant has sued the organization for racial discrimination, according to a DC federal court filing seeking backpay and punitive damages.
The former staffer, Tezlyn Figaro, filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming that “the same race problems that clouded the  Sanders presidential campaign were also pervasive at Our Revolution,” relative to the group’s “strategic policies and outreach with African Americans.”
Figaro, a friend of Our Revolution’s former president, Nina Turner, joined the group in 2017 as a consultant, serving as a strategic adviser to Turner on messaging and organizational outreach, according to the lawsuit. Turner is now a co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 campaign.
Figaro, who is black and worked in the African-American outreach department on Sanders’s first presidential bid, made headlines last spring for comments she made praising President Trump and decrying immigrants as recipients of “benefits that Americans do not get,” while black Americans are disproportionately incarcerated.
The remarks, raised in a May 2018 Politico story about tensions inside Our Revolution, which Sanders and his top aides founded after the 2016 primary as a vehicle for his political movement, were later circulated in a Facebook post by Our Revolution’s former political director, Erika Andiola. “I became sick to my stomach and could not stop crying all night,” Andiola wrote in the post, citing a number of tweets Figaro wrote before her time at the Sanders group.
“Despite what the [Politico] article says, there has been a lot of incredible work done at the grassroots level. But I also hope and pray that the organization doesn’t forget about Latinos and undocumented folks on the left. A good start would be to remove Ms. Figaro from staff, as well as to hold accountable the org leadership for this.”
In a series of tweets at the time, Figaro apologized for the comments, but said she was disappointed that she did not have a chance to talk privately with those that raised the complaints. “[It] hurts the entire mission that we are all fighting for,” she said on Twitter. “I offer no excuse on past comments, I’m always open to grow & learn if given the chance sadly in this case I was not.”
After some back and forth between Turner and Our Revolution board members — some of which spilled into public view — the group dismissed Figaro.
In her lawsuit, filed about a year after her dismissal, Figaro’s lawyer writes that she “vehemently denies” any characterization of her comments as “anti-immigrant.”
On Thursday, Figaro's lawyers said they had no further comment on the lawsuit. In a comment provided Friday, Figaro said, "I was never a Trump supporter and I was not anti-immigrant. My focus was to address the issues concerning African Americans."
The lawsuit makes broad claims about the nature of the alleged discrimination at the Sanders-linked group: namely, that its leadership “did not share” Figaro’s goal of “providing African-Americans equal access to Our Revolution"; that Figaro made numerous internal complaints about the workplace culture there; that she received “tremendous pushback” from the board in response to her efforts to “address issues important to the African American community”; and that, in May 2018, despite a recommendation from Turner, she was denied a promotion “due to [her] race and in retaliation for [her] complaints regarding Our Revolution’s treatment towards her and African-Americans.”
“She was personally attacked for raising concerns about issues affecting African-Americans and Our Revolution’s exclusion of African-American issues from its agenda,” the lawsuit reads.
Figaro details one incident in particular: an April 2018 presentation to Our Revolution bird members where she says she outlined her strategic outreach efforts. At one point in the meeting, Figaro claims, one board member, Catalina Velasquez, asked why Turner had been scheduled to speak at “so many African-American events and not more Latino events.”
In the suit, Figaro accuses Velasquez of privately and publicly calling for her termination on or about May 17, 2018, four days before Politico published its story.
Velasquez did not respond to a request for comment. She is no longer a member of the board, according to an Our Revolution spokesperson, Diane May.
Our Revolution declined to comment further on the lawsuit. The Sanders campaign also declined to comment.
The lawsuit states that around May 21, 2018, Figaro “was informed she was being terminated.”
Around that time, in an hour-long interview with radio host Tim Black, Figaro provided an impassioned defense of her role at Our Revolution, with accusations targeted at members of the group who she felt were trying to undercut her and Turner.
“The decision was already made to move on because I won’t be a distraction to anybody,” Figaro said about her departure from Our Revolution in the interview. “I’ve been self-employed for ten plus years. This is one reason why I don’t like contracts, or staff, because people think they control you and think they can control what you say. Baby, I will Uber first, anybody who knows me knows this. They know this. I don’t need no check from nobody. I am a self-starter, independent hustler.”
This article has been updated with comment provided Friday from Figaro and to clarify that when reached on Thursday, her lawyers declined to comment.