PITTSBURGH (CN) – A Pennsylvania woman says a community college forced her out after her concerns about bizarre behavior from a mentor in the radiology program made their way onto someone else’s Facebook page.
At the start of her 2011 spring semester at Community College of Allegheny County, radiology student Cara Whitney says she was assigned to shadow a technician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s hospital in McKeesport.
“During the course of the day, while plaintiff was shadowing Joe [the technician], plaintiff observed that Joe did not have full control of his faculties,” according to the suit. When Joe wasn’t sleeping in a patient-packed waiting room, he was “picking up a computer mouse and mistaking the mouse for a telephone,” she says.
“[Another time,] Joe, out of nowhere, asked plaintiff if ‘she got the pizza,'” Whitney claims.
With the waiting room filling with patients, Whitney says she became “concerned that Joe may be jeopardizing patient safety.”
“Plaintiff, being young and inexperienced, was uncertain, what, if anything, she should do about Joe,” according to the suit.
She says she was nervous about alerting hospital and school administrators, knowing that a complaint could carry “serious consequences for Joe.”
Instead, she called her mother and then her older sister, who works in the health services field.
“After conveying the situation to plaintiff’s sister and without providing any names, plaintiff’s sister advised plaintiff that she should tell somebody in authority about the situation,” the suit states.
Whitney says she took her sister’s advice and shared her concerns with Joe’s supervisor, but in the meantime her predicament wound up on the Internet.
“Unknown to plaintiff and without plaintiff’s consent, plaintiff’s sister told a co-worker about the call she had received from her younger sister, then the co-worker told the co-worker’s sister, who then mentioned the incident to others, and one of the recipients of the information posted it on Facebook,” according to the suit.
When her college found out, it “unjustifiably blamed plaintiff for the postings,” according to the suit.
The director of the college’s radiology program, August Kellermann III, ordered Whitney to report to his office, writing in an email that he had “serious concerns” about “Facebook activity,” court records show.
Whitney responded by email, telling Kellermann: “There has been a mistake, because I do not have a Facebook [profile],” records show.
“At the meeting, instead of admitting that he was under a false impression regarding what happened on January 24, 2011, defendant Kellermann still indicated plaintiff still committed some infraction and [that] he would have to take some action,” the suit states.
When Whitney and her mother met with Charles Martoni, the president of the college’s Boyce campus, he assured them that plaintiff had done nothing wrong, according to the suit.
Three days later, during a meeting with Kellermann on Feb. 17, Kellermann told plaintiff “that when plaintiff sought the advice of her older sister about what she thought she should do about [Joe] the UPMC employee, plaintiff violated some unstated CCAC policy,” according to the suit.
Whitney says she received a document accusing her of violating various radiological codes of ethics and administrative guidelines when she “discussed a confidential issue on a cell phone.”
That same day, “defendant Kellermann told plaintiff that because of this incident, plaintiff failed her Radiologic Clinical Course, but that she could withdraw from the program to avoid the ‘F’ grade,” the suit states.
“Defendant Kellermann intimidated the plaintiff into giving up her rights when he told plaintiff that if she utilized her Due Process rights [and appealed his decision] that the outcome could be potentially worse for her than her forced withdrawal,” according to the complaint.
Whitney says she withdrew, even though she had neither violated no college policies nor committed any other offense.
She sued for due process violations, alleging that her dismissal was “arbitrary and capricious” and that defendant failed to provide her a “proper disciplinary appeals process.”
She demands punitive damages from the college, Kellermann and Martoni.
She also claims breach of contract, alleging a violation of the college student rights code.
Whitney’s attorney, John Newborg in Pittsburgh, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kellermann and Martoni did not immediately respond to messages left at their offices.