A former Horry-Georgetown Technical College student filed a federal complaint against the school and one of its former English teachers this week over a racist and profane text message the professor inadvertently sent to the complainant while ‘she was a student there, according to court records. .
Ladaysha Berrien, who lives in the Burgess area, was an 18-year-old freshman with a documented learning disability when she enrolled in Professor Sheryl Lindquist’s English class last year, according to the complaint filed Monday.
When HGTC switched to virtual classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Berrien contacted Lindquist on several occasions to ask for help with an assignment.
Berrien’s mother also emailed the professor asking for clarification so that she could help her daughter complete the assigned work, according to the complaint. The lawsuit said Lindquist “got angry” with Berrien for not being able to understand the mission.
This led the professor to text Berrien on September 22, 2020, according to the lawsuit, which indicated that Lindquist had admitted that she intended to send the message to a “friend / colleague”.
“This black girl from New York is having fits with her mother involved,” the post read, according to the lawsuit. “The mother sent me the daughter’s documents for her LD: last year, she had done reading and comprehension in 5th grade. WHY wouldn’t this “bitch” just go and get her disability check and leave me alone? It will explode again and I catch the shrapnel.
Berrien was devastated by the message and sent it to her mother, who then reported the incident to HGTC, according to the lawsuit.
Berrien’s mother then received an email from Lindquist apologizing for the text.
“Again, I want to apologize for my bad and hurtful behavior,” Lindquist wrote, according to the lawsuit. “I know my words come at a time when America is grappling with racism and really bad behavior, in general.”
The exchange came just months after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which sparked protests across the country.
Berrien’s lawsuit said the professor’s text message was not only racist, but aimed at disclosing confidential personal information about the student’s learning disability, which is protected by the Portability and Liability Act. health insurance (HIPAA).
A day after the text was sent, HGTC officials called a meeting with Marilyn Fore, the college president, and other senior HGTC officials, according to the lawsuit. The college lawyer and Berrien’s mother and her lawyer also participated.
“Dr. Fore stated that she was sorry for the alleged actions of defendant Sheryl Lindquist, and that defendant Horry Georgetown Technical College had no tolerance for the alleged behavior,” the lawsuit said. Dr Fore said she needed time to investigate the incident. “
Six days later, the group met again and this time Fore offered Berrien a scholarship to continue his studies at HGTC, according to the lawsuit. Berrien declined the offer.
“The plaintiff said she did not feel comfortable continuing her education at defendant HGTC because she is traumatized by what has been said about her,” the lawsuit said. “The complainant said she was embarrassed that her disability was shared with someone who is not entitled or does not need to know.”
Berrien was reimbursed for her tuition and fees, according to the lawsuit, although “there was no agreement between the parties for compensation for the complainant’s continued education and the psychological trauma caused by the actions of Defendant Lindquist, employee of Defendant HGTC “.
The following month, Berrien sent a letter of formal notice to HGTC seeking to negotiate “a fair and reasonable settlement” that included fees for emotional therapy, tuition to attend a college of Berrien’s choice, and fees. lawyer, according to the lawsuit. HGTC responded that the college could not engage in this process due to the ongoing investigation. Berrien then filed a complaint with the SC Human Affairs Commission.
HGTC spokeswoman Nicole Hyman said in an email that the college was not aware of the lawsuit and HGTC officials were not commenting on pending litigation. However, she noted that Lindquist is no longer employed by the college.
“HGTC believes in prohibiting discrimination and harassment of its students and employees on the basis of race, color, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, status marital or family, veteran status, political ideas, sexual orientation. , gender identity or pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including, but not limited to, breastfeeding in educational programs and / or activities, ”HGTC said in a prepared statement. “The College is committed to promoting inclusion, equity and diversity. In support of this commitment, the College has an Inclusion and Diversity Council that seeks to put diversity, inclusion and equity at the forefront of College culture. With inclusion being one of our core values, we strive to create a collegial environment where all members can be successful in their professional and personal lives.
Lindquist could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated Berrien’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and HIPAA. The complaint also stated that the defendants had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “by allowing racial discrimination to exist in the environment of higher education and the school system”.
“Defendant Lindquist’s intentional, extreme and outrageous behavior of sending a volatile text message, directly to a student’s phone that was subjected to such coarse, disrespectful and offensive language, caused the plaintiff emotional and physical harm including stress, anxiety, nightmares and extreme embarrassment, ”the lawsuit said.
Berrien has requested a jury trial. She seeks judgment against Lindquist and HGTC, the elements highlighted in her formal notice, as well as damages.