Balayla Ahmad filed suit against the school in District Court on January 10th, citing gender discrimination, civil rights violations, breach of contract and negligence. The complaint also names the school's president, the president's assistant, the Dean of the College of Chiropractic and the Director of Security, all of whom Ahmad claims showed "deliberate indifference" to her complaints and eventually expelled her.
Ahmad, who transferred to Bridgeport's College of Chiropractic in January 2009, is African American and an observant Muslim, and according to the complaint regularly wears a hijab.
She alleges that from February 2009 until April 2009, she was "subject to repeated, severe, persistent and unwelcome sexual advances and harassment by a male student," Fritz Mesilien, who was in her classes and study group. Ahmad claims that despite telling Mesilien she had a boyfriend, he would continually make comments like "when am I going to get a chance to bone you." In one instance Mesilien allegedly said "I don't normally like black woman but you are different. I know you could keep up and could handle it," before taking out a pair of handcuffs and trying "to handcuff [Ahmad] as the other students laughed."
In another instance, the suit alleges, Mesilien asked Ahmad during a study group session:
"Where do the fibers end in the internal wall of the majora?" and then answered his own question, stating: "I'm going to end where the fibers attach to the internal wall of your majora." After another student cautioned Mesilien to "leave Layla alone," Mesilien, at the elevator, stated to Ahmad: "you gotta have some desire to be with other men, don't nobody want to be with just one person."
Ahmad says she made her first complaint after one instance in April, 2009, during a class, when she was asking a question and Mesilien allegedly interrupted and said: "You always are asking a question, put your hand down." According to the suit, another student asked "are you fucking her?" and Mesilien responded "yeah."
On the same day, Ahmad claims she reported the harassment to the provost, who was also the teacher of that class, and to another teacher. Shortly after, she e-mailed Frank Zolli, the Dean of the Chiropractic college, and Neil Albert Salonen, the President of the University, and reported the harassment. On April 16, Ahmad alleges she met with Zolli and again reported the harassment, but he replied: "My hands are tied. What do you suggest I do?"
Shortly after, the complaint says, Ahmad was approached by April Vournelis and William Horvath, whom she did not know but later learned were University Security Directors. They asked her about the complaint, and then allegedly said: "We have allegations that have been made against you and if you don't come with us we will contact the FBI." When she refused, Vournelis said: "Well, I am contacting the FBI and when you get to security we will have you arrested."
According to the complaint, Ahmad set up another meeting with the Dean, Zolli, for April 23, and asked "that if Vournelis and Bromley were to be present at the meeting with Zolli, that it be adjourned briefly so she could retain counsel in view of Vournelis' threat that she would be arrested." The next day, Ahmad says, two FBI agents questioned her at her apartment. FBI Agent Katherine Sullivan told Ahmad that Mesilien "and/or persons associated with him at the University, had fabricated a story falsely accusing her of being a terrorist in apparent retaliation for her having made a sexual harassment complaint against him," the complaint alleges.
Ahmad says that because of the sexual harassment and threats, she did not return to class, and requested that "the University tape her classes and/or provide an offsite proctor for her examinations so that her absence during the investigation would not adversely impact her academic standing." Shortly after, Zolli e-mailed Ahmad that "the College
deems your [sexual harassment] complaint to be closed as to the other students" and said that would be evaluated by a disciplinary committee and that "a negative evaluation may adversely affect your status at UBCC," the complaint says. In a letter from June 23, 2009, the school informed Ahmad that she had been "Academically Dismissed" from the University and she eventually failed all of her classes.
"The defendants exhibited deliberate indifference to Ahmad's repeated complaints
of severe student-on-student sexual harassment by profiling her based on her race, color,
ethnicity and Muslim religion," the complaint says, and "retaliated against Ahmad by recklessly disseminating false accusations by the harasser which the defendants had good reason to know were unreliable."
"I think, because of that, she ended up getting targeted based on some reckless accusations against her, and they completely dropped the ball on the sexual harassment," Bradford Conover, Ahmad's lawyer, told the Associated Press. "They never investigated it. Had they done so, they would have discovered the accusations against her were false and she had been subject to sexual harassment."