A former NYU professor claims he got the chop because he dared give James Franco a "D" -- this according to a new lawsuit.
José Angel Santana -- who taught Franco in his "Directing the Actor" class -- is now suing the University for his job back, claiming he was wrongfully terminated ... because he's an Hispanic man with the audacity to give Franco a low grade.
According to the lawsuit, Santana dropped the D on Franco for missing 12 of the 14 classes in the MFA course. No shocker, considering the pic TMZ posted back in 2009 ... showing Franco passed out at one of his Columbia classes.
When people found out that Santana gave Franco a D, Santana claims he suffered all sorts of public humiliation -- at the hands of James Franco ... and the University itself, which ultimately fired him ... something he claims would never have happened to a white professor.
According to Santana, other teachers played favorites with Franco, including fellow professor Jay Anania ... who Franco hired to write and direct the film "Shadows & Lies."
Santana groused, "In my opinion, they've turned the NYU graduate film degree into swag for James Franco's purposes, a possession, something you can buy."
Santana told the Post, “The university has done everything in its power to curry favor with James Franco.”
10:28 AM PT: NYU claims it hasn't seen the papers but calls what has been reported about the lawsuit "ridiculous" -- adding, "It is regrettable and disappointing to see a faculty member -- former or otherwise -- discuss any student's grade for the purpose of his or her personal publicity."