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Aoutif v. City University of New York

December 8, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, United States District Judge


In this action Zerrad Aoutif ("plaintiff") alleges that the City University of New York, York College ("defendant" or "CUNY") improperly withdrew her from an elementary French class as a result of her race, color, or national origin. Plaintiff asserts a sole cause of action under the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VI" or the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (d). Plaintiff originally asserted additional causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Those claims are considered abandoned. See Pl. Mem. in Opp. to Def. Mot. to Dismiss, ("Pl. Mem.") at 1 ("The Amended Complaint lists several causes of action, two of which will be withdrawn under separate filing. This present memorandum focuses on 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (d)."). Pending before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss the Title VI claim under Rule 12(b)(6).


The facts are cast in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as is required on a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff is a woman of Arabic descent, born in Morocco, who enrolled at CUNY as a freshman during the fall semester of 2001. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 1,2).*fn1

During that fall semester, plaintiff enrolled in a French class in order to fulfill credits towards her degree. (¶3).

In the shadow of the "tumultuous upheaval" associated with September 11, 2001, a time in which plaintiff asserts that "most people questioned the motives of most Arabs in America," plaintiff states she was "severely mistreated" by Homini Bahia, her French professor. (¶¶ 4, 5). The complaint alleges that Professor Bahia prevented plaintiff from obtaining credit for attendance, discouraged plaintiff from participating in class, pushed plaintiff, refused plaintiff entrance to the classroom, refused plaintiff's attempt to take the final exam, and issued a failing grade as a result. (¶5).

After being denied access to the classroom, Plaintiff "did everything in order to resolve the situation, meaning, [she] did everything just to have the opportunity to take the French exam and avoid a negative grade." (¶6). She spoke to Dr. Dephillipine, the Department Chair of Languages, who "did not permit her to return to class," and threatened that "security would escort [her] out of class." (Id.) Plaintiff "could not understand why [she] was treated in such a harsh manner," as, in her opinion, she "had not done anything to warrant expulsion from the class." (Id.). Plaintiff was also "devastated" that there was "no French class available to which [she] could transfer, and [she] did not want any negative record on [her] transcript." (¶7).

After telling plaintiff she could not return to class or complete the final exam, Dr. Dephillipine allegedly told plaintiff "You're from Morocco, you're Arab, An Arabic student who frightens a French Professor, can go to jail." (sic) (¶8). This statement "puzzled" plaintiff. (¶8).

Plaintiff "pleaded to several authorities within the College to allow [her] to take the final exam even if [she] was barred from . . . class." (¶9). At various times, plaintiff complained to Ms. Morin, from the Foreign Language Coordinator's Department; Stephanie Cooper, Assistant to the Provost; Dr. Schreiner, Dean of Student Support and Counseling; Abdelhamid Kherief, Coordinator and Professor of the English Program; Dr. Avis Hendrickson, Dean of Student Development; Dr. Charles C. Kidd, President of the College; Ms. Santiago, Member of the Committee of Academics; and Dean Avis Hendrickson, of the Student Development and Enrollment Management. No relief was obtained. (Id.).

On one occasion, Plaintiff spoke to an assistant of Dr. Schreiner, who "inquired as to how [she] knew French." (¶14). When plaintiff said that she was from Morocco, one of the assistants in the office said "Oh My God, Arab," and said to another secretary, "Bin Laden is here," indicating the plaintiff. (Id.). The assistant then displayed a poster stating "Bin Laden -- Wanted Dead or Alive." (Id.).

"As a result of not being allowed to take the class final exam, the University issued a failing grade for that class in February 2002, affecting [plaintiff's] grade point average, and having a negative impact on [her] overall transcript." (¶10). Plaintiff's grades "began to suffer" because she "spent so much effort" attempting to repair the situation. (¶11).

After talking to a "plethora" of people, plaintiff was ultimately promised "removal of the failing grade from [her] transcript and a refund of the moneys paid for taking that class." (¶12). She never received a refund, but defendant did convert the "WU" (unofficial withdrawal) to a "W" (withdrawn) (¶13). Both "W" and "WU" "are not favorable grades, and could be perceived unfavorably when applying for acceptance in a graduate school program." (¶13).

As a result of defendant's refusal to "complete[ly] remov[e] . . . any record pertaining to this class," plaintiff believed that her "dream of obtaining a degree in Medical Lab Technology would not be fulfilled at [the] University." (Id.). "After receiving no help from any of the authorities of the University," and because she felt "ostracized," "uncomfortable," and "unsafe," [she] became clinically depressed" and has been "under the treatment of several doctors" who have diagnosed her "with several disorders." (¶¶ 13, 15, 17).

It appeared to plaintiff that "all of the departmental heads agreed to not to help [her] get the grade dropped even though many had [her] attend appointments, follow "procedures" and policies to obtain relief, with no results." (ΒΆ16). "No final determinations, no internal hearings were ever made." (Id.). In conversations with "several departmental heads," "some mention of [her] Arabic heritage was made." Moreover, it appeared to plaintiff that "all had a ...

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