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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Black ITT Student Must Arbitrate Bias Claims

HOUSTON (CN) - A black student must arbitrate his claims that inaction at ITT Technical Institute led an assailant to taunt him with a noose and later pull a gun on him.

Charles Pickens was studying for his associate's degree at the school's campus in Webster, Texas, in 2010, when he allegedly faced racial discrimination and threats.

According to his April 2012 federal complaint, Pickens says he first reported to the dean that a white female student made a racist joke.

Pickens said he told an instructor about a second incident in which Michael Fletcher Jr. allegedly displayed a noose in his vehicle in the student parking lot.

After confronting Fletcher about the noose the next week, Fletcher allegedly responded, "I can do whatever I fuc*ing want!"

Pickens says he elevated his complaints to ITT Chair Reginald Garrett, who "followed Pickens to defendant Fletcher's vehicle and took pictures of the hanging noose," according to the complaint.

Though "Garrett assured Pickens that the matter would be handled and urged Pickens not to worry," Pickens says the noose remained in Fletcher's vehicle.

When a fellow student questioned Fletcher about the noose, he "flew into a rage" and "became incredibly aggressive and began yelling racially-charged epithets at Pickens," according to the complaint.

"During defendant Fletcher's racial tirade, Pickens' worst fears were realized," the complaint continues. "Fletcher went into his vehicle, pulled out a gun, and aimed it directly at Pickens.

"When several students began to scream and run, Fletcher jumped into his vehicle and fled.

"Webster Police Department was called to the scene.

"Defendant Fletcher was subsequently arrested for having a prohibited weapon on an educational institution's property and possession of narcotics.

"Pickens' educational experience at ITT was forever changed."

Pickens sued ITT Educational Services Inc. dba ITT Technical Institute for race discrimination and negligence, and Fletcher for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.

The institute moved to either dismiss or stay the action and compel arbitration.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison found that the binding arbitration clause, which Pickens signed upon his enrollment, was both valid and enforceable.

Ellison stayed the claims against ITT pending arbitration on Friday.

Fletcher abstained from joining in the motion, and, as Ellison pointed out in his 12-page ruling, "the agreement plainly does not govern Pickens' claims against Fletcher."

Ellison opted to retain supplemental jurisdiction over the claims against Fletcher.

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