A black, Muslim woman has sued the University of Bridgeport for allegedly reporting her to the FBI rather than investigating her sexual harassment complaints against a fellow student at the Connecticut school.
Balayla Ahmad, 35, said the school ignored her repeated reports of harassment and instead falsely accused her of being a terrorist because she was an African-American Muslim, according to a federal complaint.
Ahmad, who is represented by Brad Conover of New York City-based Conover Law Offices, filed the discrimination complaint Tuesday that includes the university's president, his assistant, a dean and the directory of security.
They "exhibited deliberate indifference to Ahmad's repeated complaints of severe student-on-student sexual harassment" and instead retaliated by "recklessly disseminating false accusations by the harasser which the defendants had good reason to know were unreliable," according to the lawsuit.
University of Bridgeport spokeswoman Leslie Geary told ABC News that the Office of Civil Rights determined that the university did nothing wrong and condemns the allegations.
"As a policy, however, the university does not comment on pending litigation, but it profoundly disagrees with the erroneous and misleading allegations that have been made. We are an extremely diverse university, with students from more than 80 countries around the world and a large Muslim population, and upholding the highest standards of cultural and religious tolerance is a standard we take with the greatest seriousness," said Geary.
Ahmad's problems first began in 2009 when she was a graduate student at Bridgeport's College of Chiropractic, according to the complaint. She said that from February through April of that year she was constantly harassed by a fellow student, who she says made repeated sexual advances at her, often hurling obscenities such as "I want to eat you like I am eating this sub [sandwich]" or yelling "I'm going to cuff you" while holding a pair of handcuffs.
She first reported him in April 2009 to several teachers as well as the provost, none of whom reported the incident to the university's president, Neil Salonen, according to the complaint. After reporting the incident to Salonen, against the urging of some professors, she had a meeting with the college's dean who, according to the complaint, told her that his hands were tied and asked what she suggested he do.
She filed a police report with the Bridgeport Police Department in April 2009. Bridgeport police confirmed that Ahmad filed a complaint in April 2009 but declined to detail the nature of the allegation.
Ahmad was later approached by university security directors, who asked whether she had reported sexual harassment, according to the complaint.
One of the directors told her, "We have allegations that have been made against you and if you don't come with us, we will contact the FBI," according to the complaint.
Two FBI agents met with Ahmad, the complaint alleges. It was during this meeting that she learned that the fellow student had been spreading rumors that she was a terrorist in retaliation for her complaint against him, according to the complaint.
While William Reiner of the Connecticut branch of the FBI wouldn't comment specifically on this case, he said the FBI takes all reports seriously.
"In general, the FBI receives all types of information, which are assessed for investigative merit." he said. "The least intrusive methods are utilized to make a determination if full investigations are warranted. The FBI is very cognizant of the rights of individuals while making this assessment and takes seriously its responsibility to ensure those rights are protected. The FBI will not comment on a particular lead or investigation."
Attorney Conover said, "The sexual harassment investigation never occurred. Instead it became about her."
Ahmad was dismissed from the school in June 2009 after, she says in the complaint, she was unable to attend class because of the alleged persistent harassment as well as perceived threats of federal prosecution.
Her lawyer said his client has suffered from the aftermath of 9/11.
"It's profiling that has been happening in this country since September 11," he said, "and it appeared to be the university's sole focus instead of investigating that case that she made about sexual harassment."