(CN) – Former students can sue a New York pharmacy college for sexual harassment and retaliation after one complained that his chemistry teacher was making unwanted sexual advances on him, and he and his roommates were in turn found guilty of cheating on exams, the 2nd Circuit court ruled.
While Daniel Papelino was a student at Union University’s Albany College of Pharmacy, he says a chemistry professor, Deanne Nowak, constantly flirted with him, badgered him to go out with her, and offered to him extra points on exams. When the two met in Nowak’s office, he claimed Nowak put her backside in his face and touched his crotch.
At the same meeting Nowark allegedly told the student: “Do you know how lonely I’ve been lately? I thought you might be interested in knowing that.”
Shortly after Papelino complained to the school’s associate dean of student affairs, Nowak headed an investigation that accused Papelino and his two roommates of cheating on exams.
The three students were found guilty of violating the school’s honor code, and Papelino was expelled along with his friend, Carl Basile. The third student, Michael Yu, was given a failing grade for a class but allowed to retake it.
A state court later ruled that there was no evidence Papelino and his roommates had cheated, and the school voted to award diplomas to the expelled students. The three students then sued the school for retaliation, sexual harassment and breach of contract.
After a District Court dismissed their suit, Papelino and Yu appealed to the Manhattan-based federal appeals panel. Basile did not appeal.
Judge Denny Chin, writing for the court’s three-judge panel, wrote that there was evidence that the Associate Dean Albert White was indifferent to Papelino’s complaint that Nowak had made sexual advances.
“Although White was responsible for administering the student code, he did nothing to investigate Papelino’s complaint,” the ruling states. “He did not follow the procedures established by ACP [the college] for processing complaints of sexual harassment. He did not ‘take care’ of the situation as he had told Papelino he would.”
The judge added that White did not intervene in the disciplinary proceedings Nowak initiated against Papelino, also noting the school’s investigation followed Papelino’s complaint by just a few weeks.
“A reasonable jury could find that Nowak engaged in this conduct because Papelino rejected her sexual advances, and that these actions were part of a pattern of pervasive conduct that was sufficiently hostile or abusive to alter the conditions of Papelino’s educational environment,” Chin added, highlighting Papelino’s allegation that Nowak sexually taunted the student at his disciplinary hearing by leaning forward and flashing her breasts.
The court also reinstated the students’ breach of contract claim because the student showed that the school failed to properly investigate his complaint against Nowak, and was negligent in letting her spearhead the proceedings against him.
The lower court’s finding on the remaining claims were affirmed.