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Lawsuit against Allegheny College to enter mediation

Complaint claims college discriminated against student

Alex Weidenhof, News Editor

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A lawsuit filed against Allegheny College in United States District Court — the second in 2017 — will proceed in front of a federal magistrate judge. The college is accused of and denies charges of racial discrimination.

Altay Baskan, ’20, filed a lawsuit against Allegheny and Student Conduct Officer Joe Hall April 21, claiming the college discriminated against him based on his race and ethnicity in a student conduct proceeding in December.

The college formally denied all allegations of the lawsuit July 3 and requested the case be dismissed. Both parties agreed July 21 to proceed in front of a federal magistrate judge.

“The college does not comment on legal matters,” wrote Eileen Petula, executive vice president and chief operating officer, in an email to The Campus.

Edward Olds, Baskan’s attorney, and Allegheny College President James Mullen did not return calls seeking comment.

In December 2016, the college suspended Baskan for one semester, charging him with underaged drinking, vandalism and possession of weapons, among other policy violations, according to a copy of the civil complaint.

His sentence was reduced to probation after a Jan. 18 appeal. Along with other conditions of his probation, Baskan was required to attend bimonthly counseling sessions.

In the civil complaint, Baskan’s attorney claims members of residence life, including student resident advisers and the community adviser in Ravine-Narvik Hall, advised him that drinking in his dormitory was permitted so long as he alerted RAs to this fact and nothing got out of hand. Baskan’s attorney wrote the college’s underaged drinking policy seems arbitary.

“Those rules, the manner in which there was actual adherence to them, the manner in which enforcement was haphazard and non-systematic, arbitrary and unreasonable, and the means by which their application and enforcement could be abused, are the subject of this case,” the complaint reads.

Additionally, Baskan’s attorney claims, residence life repeatedly told Baskan that his pocket knives, which he used while working for Physical Plant, and his Nerf guns and BB guns were permitted in Ravine. He claims student workers actually had a cache of Nerf guns available and frequently engaged in fights using the guns.

The defendants denied “that the BB gun plaintiff possessed, displayed and used in the residence hall was a toy, and also … that the BB gun … presented no risk or danger to safety,” the answer to the civil complaint reads in part. Allegheny and Hall deny the college had a cache of Nerf guns available for student use.

The defendants denied that the BB gun was a toy, instead claiming that it had true capability of harming people.

In a separate incident on the same day, Baskan was written up by residence life staff for tossing his pocket knife into a couch, as well as for making noise with his BB gun, the lawsuit claims.

Baskan’s lawsuit against Allegheny College and Joe Hall alleging racial discrimination is not the only federal case or investigation against the college.

Two investigations, led by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are looking into how the college handles reports of Title IX violations on campus. One was opened Dec. 5, 2014; the other July 30, 2015.

The only basis for such a view was stereotypical notions that might be generated by Baskan’s apperance, as Baskan had never engaged in any conduct that even approached violence.”

— Complaint

In addition, a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this year accused Allegheny of discrimination based on sex. That case was settled during mediation in front of a magistrate. Terms of the settlement were not released.

At his meeting with Hall the following Monday, Hall allegedly told Baskan that his actions the night before were not “minor transgression[s].” The suit claims Hall told Baskan he “presented a danger to the College.”

“The only basis for such a view was stereotypical notions that might be generated by Baskan’s appearance, as Baskan had never engaged in any conduct that even approached violence,” the lawsuit reads.

The college and Hall deny these allegations, in their responses to the lawsuit.

Hall chose to suspend Baskan for one semester for his policy violations. The complaint also alleges two FBI agents spoke with him regarding an anti-Semitic bias incident that occurred on his floor after Baskan was suspended. Dean of Students Kimberly Scott .allegedly told Baskan that the college gave files on every student who lived on Baskan’s floor to the FBI.

In its response to the most recent lawsuit, the college admits that the FBI did become involved in an investigation into the bias incident, but denies they singled out Baskan.

After Baskan’s appeal, he received a sentence of probation.

As a result of Baskan’s reprimand, the lawsuit claims the college discriminated against him due to his Turkish descent and appearance.

This count of the lawsuit is filed against both Allegheny and Hall, who the complaint claims had an “underlying subconscious fear of Baskan” due to his race, “which is not warranted under the circumstances.”

The second count of the lawsuit, which claims Allegheny breached implied and explicit contract with Baskan, alleges the college violated its contract with him by “acting arbitrarily, irrationally and unreasonably in the course of its discipline of Baskan.”

Allegheny denies that college “policies and procedures” created or constituted “a contract between Plaintiff and Allegheny College.”

The final count of Basksan’s lawsuit claims the college invaded his privacy by requiring 16 counseling sessions.

The college denies that they required Baskan to sign a release authorizing the college to view information regarding his counseling sessions, as Baskan’s lawsuit claims.

The case will proceed in federal court. The next action is mediation on Oct. 15.

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Lawsuit against Allegheny College to enter mediation