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Student Accuses Argosy U of Fraud & Bias

CHICAGO (CN) - Argosy University defrauded a master's student by booting her after she complained of discrimination, and a professor who had never examined her accused her of having "narcissistic personality disorder" in the presence of other students, the woman claims in court.

Kate O'Driscoll sued Argosy University, Education Management Corp, and Dr. Dale Septeowski in Federal Court.

Argosy, a for-profit chain college founded in 2001, has 23 campuses in 12 states and the District of Columbia and operates on the Internet, according to its website.

O'Driscoll says Sepetowski was chairman of the counselor education program at the campus where she was pursuing her master's degree.

"O'Driscoll has completed all requirements for a master's degree from defendant Argosy, including coursework with a GPA of 3.7, and over 1,200 hours of internship at two approved sites. Argosy, however, refuses to award her degree," O'Driscoll says in the 41-page complaint.

"Defendants wrongfully terminated plaintiff from her degree program [in 2011], purportedly because she had not 'completed the requirements for graduation' for the Master of Arts in Community Counseling program. This was false and pretextual," the complaint states.

The real motivation was O'Driscoll's complaints against Dale Sepetowski, "who made degrading remarks concerning women students in his classes, including disparaging remarks about pregnant students. O'Driscoll objected to these remarks as discriminatory," the complaint states.

O'Driscoll says she was called before the Student Professional Development Committee in June 2009 (SPDC) and accused of communicating unprofessionally with faculty and students.

"During this unjustified, retaliatory meeting, O'Driscoll was forced to sit directly next to Dr. Sepetowski himself, in derogation of Argosy protocol. Dr. [Juliana] Robinson and Dr. [LaDon] Jackson, concerning whom O'Driscoll had also complained, were also in attendance, and Dr. Jackson chaired the meeting.

"During the June 9, 2009 meeting, Dr. Septeowski sat and glared at O'Driscoll in an intimidating manner, reducing O'Driscoll to tears.

"During the June 9, 2009 SPDC meeting, the SPDC refused to hear O'Driscoll's proffer of evidence of Dr. Sepetowski's sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Dr. Jackson told her, in a demeaning tone, 'Absolutely not. This is not the place to discuss such things.'

"During the June 9, 2009 SPDC meeting, Dr. Robinson, who had never met O'Driscoll before, stated repeatedly, in a demeaning and disrespectful manner, that O'Driscoll had a severe 'personality problem,' said O'Driscoll needed 'counseling,' and asked 'how did you plan on correcting yourself?'

"Dr. Robinson had never conducted a psychological evaluation of O'Driscoll, and had no basis for 'diagnosing' her," O'Driscoll says.

At a September meeting, where O'Driscoll appealed her C- grade in Sepetowski's Career and Lifestyle class, "she was asked four different times to discuss details of her supposed medical condition. When she refused, the Committee made it clear that she was 'disappointing' them by not divulging her confidential information," the complaint states.

The SPDC recommended that "O'Driscoll should engage in 'personal therapy to address some of your 'boundary issues' as it related to how you take on concerns of other students[]' and to focus on her 'limitations and responsibilities, especially in the area of your interpersonal relating skills when confronted with issues from authority figures,'" O'Driscoll says.(Empty brackets in complaint.)

In January 2010, "on an elevator trip at Argosy, Dr. Jeffery Edwards purported to 'diagnose' O'Driscoll with a mental disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in the presence of two other students. O'Driscoll asked him to stop, but he refused.

"Dr. Edwards, a professor in the M.A.C.C. [Master of Arts in Community Counseling], was a personal friend and employee of Dr. Septeowski.

"Dr. Edwards had never done a psychological evaluation of O'Driscoll, and his purported 'diagnosis' violated professional ethics," according to the complaint.

When she complained about Edwards' behavior, the school told her that "she was in violation of the SPDC remediation plan in complaining about Dr. Edwards's wrongful 'diagnosis,'" according to the complaint.

O'Driscoll claims: "On March 11, 2011, O'Driscoll was retaliatorily dismissed from the M.A.C.C. Program at Argosy, and consequently denied the award of her M.A. degree, due, inter alia, to her complaints of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, and her support of other students bringing such claims, and her assertion of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act."

She claims she was denied employment at three jobs because Argosy refused to grant her a degree.

She seeks lost wages and damages for retaliation, discrimination, breach of contract, fraud, and tortious interference.

She is represented by Elaine Siegel.

Argosy was one of 15 for-profit chain colleges named in a blistering Government Accountability Office report in August 2010.

Argosy, part of the Education Management Corp., which then claimed to have 136,000 students, was accused, along with other giant chain colleges, of encouraging its recruiters to defraud prospective students about financial aid, tuition costs, and post-graduation job prospects.

Also scorched in the GAO report were the chain colleges University of Phoenix (400,000+ students), Kaplan College (119,000 students), and Corinthian Colleges (110,000).

The GAO report caused the stock price of many chain colleges to drop, and led to a slew of shareholders class actions and class action fraud complaints by students. But aside from jawboning, Congress took few no steps to rein in the alleged wrongdoing.

Chain colleges and Internet colleges boomed after powerful House Republican leader Tom DeLay led a charge to deregulate them in the early 2000s.

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