LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A former Pomona College professor filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Tuesday, alleging she was denied tenure and fired because she is Latina.

Alma Martinez, who starred in the 1981 film “Zoot Suit” and had roles on television and stage, was an assistant professor in the theater department for six years.

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According to her lawsuit, fellow professors in the theater department recommended Martinez for tenure in 2011. In January, Martinez learned she was denied tenure and would be terminated.

“I describe it as a punch to the stomach,” she said.

Martinez, who holds a PhD from Stanford University and is a Fulbright Scholar, was the only Latino professor in the nine-person department. She is asking the college for her job back and an undisclosed amount in damages.

“I love teaching. I feel I’m good at it, and I want to be back in the classroom with my students,” said Martinez.

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Four of Martinez’s former students spoke on her behalf at a news conference Tuesday.

“Alma was my professor, my adviser and my on-campus mom,” said former student Eileen Lopez.

Martinez is being represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), a Latino civil rights organization.

“The action that is being filed this morning by MALDEF is one that seeks to expose the problems inherent in our university tenure systems that have resulted in that under-representation and exclusion,” said Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF.

The college issued a statement Tuesday that read in part: “Pomona College has one of the most diverse faculties, in terms of both gender and race, of any college of its type in the country. The tenure review process at Pomona is designed to be both exhaustive and fair.”

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The school also noted that 30 percent of its faculty are minorities and 44 percent are women.