A nursing student at Pima Community College (PCC) has filed a lawsuit claiming that she was illegally suspended after she complained that her classmates were speaking in Spanish and orally translating English to Spanish so excessively that she was failing to learn.
In early April, the student, Terri Bennett, formally requested a rule limiting classroom discussion to English. Nursing program director David Kutzler allegedly responded by called her a “bigot and a bitch,” reports Courthouse News Service.
Kutzler allegedly charged that Bennett was “discriminating against Mexican-Americans” and threatened to report her complaint as a violation of the school’s policies against discriminatory behavior and harassment.
“You do not want to go down that road,” he said, according to the filing.
Bennett, 50, recalls leaving the meeting in distress and in tears.
A second meeting two days later involved Bennett, Kutzler and three more PCC staffers. The public school officials allegedly told Bennett that she would “not get a job” because of her desire to limit class discussion to English. She claims they said she should “seek counseling” and that she might have a learning disability.
Kutzler also allegedly produced an anonymous evaluation form that Bennett had filled out, also suggesting a “no Spanish in the classroom” rule.
Later in April, Bennett received critical feedback from a teacher—for the first time, she maintains. The critique chastised Bennett for “ineffective communication skills.”
Then, on April 22, Bennett received a suspension letter from the state-owned school. The charges levied against her included discrimination, “stalking” and “bullying.” She also allegedly argued with a professor about the correct answer to a test question.
Her indefinite suspension was to last “until she receives counseling to improve her communication style and to learn to be less abrasive,” the lawsuit states.
“Six armed” campus security officers promptly escorted her off PCC’s Desert Vista campus. The officers then allegedly followed her several miles down the road to Interstate 10.
Bennett sued the community college and its boards of directors in an Arizona state court under several causes of action including harassment, breach of contract, retaliation, discrimination and violations of the Arizona Constitution. The college and its board of governors are the only defendants.
Article 28 of Arizona’s state constitution establishes English as “the official language of the state.” Section 3 states: “A person shall not be discriminated against or penalized in any way because the person uses or attempts to use English in public or private communication.”
The language barrier had been a festering problem for Bennett. Things came to a head in a course called Introduction to Nursing.
The lawsuit states — in the passive voice — that Spanish-speaking students “were asked not to speak in Spanish in front of non-Spanish speakers.”
“Bennett believes some students were translating the lessons into Spanish for students who were not able to speak English,” the lawsuit states.
In response, the Spanish speakers “laughed and mocked” Bennett and the other English speakers.
At that point, Bennett decided that PCC “was hostile” to people who don’t speak Spanish. “She felt ostracized, excluded, and segregated from the rest of her class, the majority of which all spoke Spanish (including the instructors),” according to Courthouse News.
Bennett is represented by John Munger of the Arizona law firm Munger Chadwick. Munger is a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for the 2010 GOP nomination for governor.
Another figure on the plaintiff’s side is Phil Kent, an Atlanta-based activist who is very hostile to illegal immigration. He is a spokesman for a lobbying group called ProEnglish, which wants to make English the sole official language of the United States and which is providing seed money for the lawsuit, reports TucsonSentinel.com.
At a press conference on Monday, Munger and Kent presented Bennett’s grievance to local press in Tucson. They said they will ask for a termination of the suspension and a six-figure damages amount from PCC.
Still photos of the press conference appear to show Kent sporting a necktie emblazoned with the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy—an interesting fashion choice for the event, certainly.
In an email to TucsonSentinel.com, PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin wrote that the public school “denies that any of Ms. Bennett’s legal rights were violated and denies that the lawsuit has any basis.”
In a prior phone call, Karamargin had said, “This suit is entirely without merit.”
As Courthouse News notes, PCC is a large school with roughly 30,000 total students enrolled across a half dozen campuses. Statistics show that 38 percent of students identify as “Latino/Hispanic.”
Pima County College counts among its most famous attendees Jared Loughner, who killed six people and severely injured U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011. Loughner was suspended from the school in September 2010 for bizarre, threatening behavior.