Student sues Meharry, says he wasn't allowed to graduate after sex assault claim

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 5:54pm

A dentistry student at Meharry Medical College is suing the school after he claimed he was retaliated against for reporting a sexual assault.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week, student Payton Thomas claims a female professor assaulted him in an auxiliary room of the dentistry clinic at the college in September 2011. The alleged victim, then working as a student doctor, had to “physically and verbally repel” the faculty member.

The faculty member then instructed Thomas not to say anything about the alleged “inappropriate sexual touching.” In April, as Thomas prepared to graduate, he approached his alleged assailant for academic reasons. She told him that he wasn’t going to graduate, the lawsuit claims.

Fearing retaliation, Thomas filed a written complaint to the college about the sexual assault, and a short time later Meharry School of Dentistry Dean Janet Southerland called a special committee meeting regarding Thomas’ academic standing.

The committee voted to require him to repeat a year of school due to an absence from November 2011 to February 2012. Thomas refuted the absence and said he has completed all required academic and clinical work.

The student doctor claims he appealed to Meharry president Wayne Riley but didn’t receive a response.

Another committee met in August and found Thomas guilty of “fraudulent and unethical” conduct, according to the suit.

Thomas’ attorney, Bob Lynch, wrote to Meharry on Aug. 28 about the allegations and asked for a response by Sept. 6, but when the school didn’t respond he filed suit in U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee.

The lawsuit claims Meharry violated the student’s rights under Title IX as well as the Tennessee Human Rights Act because he was working as an employee of the school.

The suit asks for $2 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages.

Lynch had no comment on the case.

Meharry declined to comment on the matter through legal counsel.

8 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 9/19/12 at 7:17

For some extremely obviously reasons this story just doesn't
have the right ring to it. The suit sounds extremely shaky on
receiving any monetary damages, and the Court would have
a very hard time requiring the University to give this guy any
academic awards if the University has any proof at all in the case
that he hasn't completed the requirements.

By: nashvilleboy on 9/19/12 at 9:16

I wish something like this would have happened to me when I was in school. I would have told the teacher to "spread 'em".

By: wallatalla on 9/19/12 at 11:11

OMG!!!! I was able to look at the complete lawsuit documents online at this link.
http://dockets.justia.com/docket/tennessee/tnmdce/3:2012cv00929/54091/

Had to pay though but its public info :~(... Seems like a lot of the necessary details needed to understand the case were not mentioned in the contents of this article. Guess that's why I'm nosey! LOL This case is really interesting and seems like some answers are going to have to be made very quickly at Meharry! I'm a law student and its seems very interesting how connected the dean of this school was to the person that assaulted this student. RED FLAG... Seems very fishy coverup to me and classic retaliation for being a whistleblower! And injunctions are made all the time for stuff like this in the courts against institutions or corporations. Also, under Title IX there are certain amounts victims are entitled to... especially since this Meharry did nothing about the formal complaint. I think they could lose federal funding if this proves to be true and they did nothing, which is also VERY strange to me.

By: jrc6 on 9/20/12 at 7:11

This happen to student at Meharry, they never come out because they are scared that they wont graduate. Also there is a lot of racial discrimination that is prevalent in this place. I think the graduate school is the only good one. The Medical and Dental school are bad. if your white, hispanic or asian you can never make an equal pay like African American employee.

By: anp2j on 9/20/12 at 8:53

wallatalla can you email the lawsuit? maybe comp and paste it? if not, what are some of the things that were left out? My bowfriend goes to Meharry...I am very curious

By: NewYorker1 on 9/20/12 at 10:13

I have a few friends who are doctors and dentist that graduated from Meharry and I have heard them say how awful the staff was there during their time there as students.

Also, my dad is a surgeon in NYC and he has friends that graduated from Meharry and I've heard the same stories from them.

By: wallatalla on 9/20/12 at 2:23

Well, I will say that this student had been selected to a very good residency program in Pediatric Dentistry in the Northeast but had to forfeit it or defer it or something as a result of this. That's very touching to me! The student was told by the dean of Meharry that they couldn't mention this assault again and she told him the assault had nothing to do with his "dismissal". The student was never told WHY he was dismissed for well over 100 days.. That's crazy!!

I believe the dept of education would love to hear about Meharry not reporting an assault. I also see the student has had to seek medical help following this, but that's a private matter. Talk about MENTAL DISTRESS!!!! This is very sad! It also appears that this process of hiding the truth has gone on for quite some time now since May 2012. I just wonder why they never did an investigation by Meharry or anyone after the student reported???!! That's what leads me to believe the student has to be telling the truth. These people need not be in academia to manipulate and damage students. :~(... What was their motivation? Seems very very evil!

I really hope I am not putting too much out their, but I really wish I could help this student. So sad.. :~( I just feel a terrible. These are public documents, as I said, so its not like i'm trying to fabricate anything. I wish the student well and a speedy recovery of what has been stripped from him. Sorry to be so long-winded...

By: thetruthbetold on 11/29/12 at 8:51

This happens all the time at Meharry and Metro General and nothing is ever done. They either have to shut the place down or get rid of all the administration and then some. Don't worry about the medical student. He has God at his side. Watch and see......