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GALLY v. COLUMBIA UNIV.

September 24, 1998

ANNIE R. GALLY, Plaintiff, against COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY AND ORAL SURGERY, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JONES

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

 BARBARA S. JONES

 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This case involves the legal relationship between a student and a university and the extent to which the courts should intercede in resolving grievances that arise within the academic community. After failing a required course and taking a medical leave of absence, plaintiff Annie R. Gally, a former student of Columbia University School of Dentistry and Oral Surgery ("SDOS"), brings this action against SDOS and Columbia University alleging that defendants mistreated her while she was a student at SDOS. Based on her allegations, plaintiff seeks damages for breach of contract and constructive discharge.

 Pending is defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the following reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 The following facts are from plaintiff's complaint, which is presumed to be true for purposes of defendants' motion to dismiss, and from documents incorporated by reference in the complaint.

 SDOS is a highly competitive and selective dental school that provides professional training programs and services to students seeking a Doctor of Dental Surgery ("D.D.S.") degree. SDOS is accredited by the American Dental Association ("ADA"), and operates pursuant to ADA policies and standards, as well as SDOS's Code of Conduct and SDOS's Academic Policies and Procedures.

 Plaintiff enrolled at SDOS in the fall of 1994. Beginning in her first semester, plaintiff claims to have observed "rampant cheating" among fellow students. Proctors and professors allegedly allowed this cheating to occur by looking the other way during exams. Plaintiff claims that she brought the cheating to the attention of SDOS faculty and administrators, including the Academic Dean and the Dean of Students, but that they were "entirely dismissive of plaintiff's concerns."

 According to plaintiff, the widespread cheating and SDOS's failure to address plaintiff's concerns "deeply offended and upset" her, devalued the educational services that SDOS had promised to provide, and breached SDOS' promises to abide by the SDOS Code of Conduct *fn1" and "to prepare graduates with an understanding of the social, economic, societal and ethical aspects of the profession."

 Plaintiff further alleges that in her second year at SDOS she "was subjected to the animosity" of Dr. Farhad Hadavi, her professor for Introduction to Operative Dentistry, a required second-year course. Without giving specific examples, plaintiff alleges that throughout the school year, Dr. Hadavi "gratuitously demeaned and denigrated plaintiff and her work, doing so openly and obnoxiously before the entire class." Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Hadavi "harbored bigoted hostility toward [her] based on her race, gender and ethnicity." *fn2" Plaintiff attributes this alleged hostility to the fact that Dr. Hadavi "upon information and belief, [is] a Muslim from Iran."

 Plaintiff alleges that the mistreatment from Dr. Hadavi began after plaintiff missed the first session of Dr. Hadavi's course to attend a doctor's appointment. It continued, according to plaintiff, after plaintiff requested a project extension to enable her to sit shiva *fn3" for her recently deceased grandfather. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Hadavi made "plaintiff the object of his uncontrollable animosity by announcing that anyone who took off from class because of illness or death did not 'deserve' to be a part of 'his' class."

 Faced with what she categorizes as Dr. Hadavi's "bigotry and anti-semitism," plaintiff claims that she approached SDOS administrators for help, but that they were "dismissive of her concerns." During the same time, plaintiff alleges that her "ongoing protestations concerning cheating were similarly rebuffed."

 At the conclusion of her second year, in June 1996, plaintiff took her final exam for Dr. Hadavi's course. The exam consisted of both clinical and written parts. Plaintiff passed the clinical part of the exam, but failed the written part. Plaintiff now attributes her failure to the fact that she "internalized the demeaning criticisms" directed at her by Dr. Hadavi.

 Plaintiff complains that, contrary to SDOS policies, her exam results were not posted until September 1996, at the start of her third year. *fn4" Upon learning that she had failed the written portion of the exam, plaintiff made plans with Dr. Hadavi to retake the exam and to schedule a review session. According to plaintiff, Dr. Hadavi scheduled the review session for the same day as Yom Kippur. Eventually, Dr. Hadavi rescheduled the review session for a different date.

 Plaintiff claims that she subsequently spoke to the administration about Dr. Hadavi's alleged "bias and continuing abuse of her." She also claims that she spoke to the Dean of Students about remedial help for the written exam. The Dean referred plaintiff to a student tutor, but plaintiff complains that the student failed to give her any assistance.

 After attending a review session run by Dr. Hadavi, plaintiff took the written portion of the exam for a second time with other students who had previously failed. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Hadavi, who proctored the exam, "carried on in a conspicuously disgruntled manner" during the exam. Once again, plaintiff failed the exam.

 On October 8, 1996, the Third Year Class Committee of SDOS notified plaintiff that she could no longer treat patients in the school clinic until she passed her exam, and that the exam would be readministered on December 9, 1996. *fn5" Plaintiff, however, believed that waiting until December to take the exam would effectively halt her progress in the D.D.S. program. Accordingly, she complained to the Dean of Students about the date and asked for an earlier exam date. Plaintiff's parents also met with the Dean to request an earlier exam date.

 On October 18, 1996, the Third Year Class Committee and SDOS administrators held a hearing on plaintiff's "appeal" of the December exam date. At the conclusion of that hearing, SDOS gave plaintiff the option of taking the exam in October with Dr. Hadavi or waiting until December to take the exam with another proctor. Plaintiff contends that SDOS gave her this option as "a further attempt to antagonize and retaliate against [her]." Plaintiff chose the October exam date.

 Plaintiff took the exam for a third time on October 25, 1996. Plaintiff claims that this exam, unlike the prior two, was not a "straightforward multiple choice" exam, but instead consisted of fifty-two questions, many with multiple parts. Plaintiff also claims that for the third exam the minimum passing score was raised from 70% to 75%. On October 29, 1996, plaintiff learned that she had scored a 61% on the exam and failed yet again.

 Plaintiff claims that at least ten questions on the third exam were "incorrectly graded as wrong." However, according to plaintiff, officials at SDOS refused to regrade the exam because it would "make no difference" as to whether plaintiff passed the exam. Plaintiff attributes her failing score and the discrepancy in the ten questions to what she terms "[Dr.] Hadavi's middling command of English and his difficulty in framing clear and coherent questions."

 On or about November 6, 1996, plaintiff sought and was granted a medical leave of absence from SDOS for up to one year. In April 1997, plaintiff sought a tuition rebate based on her leave. Plaintiff alleges that the SDOS administration delayed in granting the rebate.

 On July 9, 1997, plaintiff commenced this lawsuit against defendants seeking damages under two claims. First, plaintiff claims breach of contract, based on defendants' alleged violation of provisions set forth in the ADA and SDOS guidelines and by defendants' alleged breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiff ...


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