NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A Muslim woman is suing the University of Bridgeport, alleging that the school failed to investigate her claims that a fellow student sexually harassed her and instead retaliated by reporting her to the FBI based on a false claim that she was a terrorist.
Balayla Ahmad filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday saying that she was sexually harassed by a male student for months in 2009 and that university officials showed “deliberate indifference” to her repeated complaints. She said college officials recklessly disseminated false accusations by the harasser that they had good reason to believe were unreliable and threatened her with arrest by the FBI.
Leslie Geary, a university spokeswoman, said that the university hadn’t seen the lawsuit and that she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Ahmad’s lawyer, Bradford Conover, noted that his client is an observant black Muslim who regularly wears a hijab, the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women, so her religion was obvious.
“I think, because of that, she ended up getting targeted based on some reckless accusations against her, and they completely dropped the ball on the sexual harassment,” Conover said. “They never investigated it. Had they done so, they would have discovered the accusations against her were false and she had been subject to sexual harassment.”
The threat of an FBI investigation frightened Ahmad to the point that was initially in fear of even leaving her apartment, Conover said.
“Since her academic dismissal from UB, she has suffered the humiliation and the emotional stress of having been unfairly profiled and targeted and of not being able to pursue her chosen career in medicine,” he said in a statement.
After received her master’s degree from Central Michigan University, Ahmad enrolled in the University of Bridgeport in 2008 and studied to become a chiropractor. The male student, who isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit, repeatedly made sexual advances and graphic offensive comments about wanting to have sex with her, according to the lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
When she complained to a teacher, she was told that the university generally doesn’t get rid of students right away over such incidents, the lawsuit said. Another teacher asked her if she were married and asked her not to report it to the dean because he would speak with the harasser, the suit said.
Ahmad then reported the harassment and fears for her safety to the university’s president and dean, who promised to meet with her. But she said when she met with the dean, he said, “My hands are tied. What do you suggest I do?”
After reporting the sexual harassment in April 2009, Ahmad said she was approached by two university security directors who told her someone had made allegations against her and they threatened to call the FBI and have her arrested.
Later, two FBI agents knocked on Ahmad’s apartment door, questioned her and left a business card, according to the lawsuit. She said she learned that her harasser or his associates had fabricated a story falsely accusing her of being a terrorist in apparent retaliation for having made a sexual harassment complaint against him.
“Ahmad was racially profiled and discriminated against because of her race, color and ethnic identity as an African American Muslim and labeled a terrorist based on false accusations provided by the harasser and adopted without adequate investigation by the university,” the lawsuit states.
Ahmad asked that the university provide her with an off-site proctor for her exams, but she said the university told her in April 2009 that her sexual harassment complaint had been closed and that she was being referred to a disciplinary committee. In June, she said the university dismissed her.
The FBI found no wrongdoing by Ahmad, her attorney said. A message left with an FBI spokesman Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.
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