2 dental hygiene professors sue Calif. college

Lawsuit

Two professors at a college dental hygiene program in Califiornia are suing the school, claiming they endured retaliation for filing a formal complaint for "severe and pervasive" racial discrimination perpetrated by the program director and other educators.

On April 10, Karen Kubischta and Dr. Linda Lukacs, who were obligated as mandatory reporters to report discrimination, filed a suit in the Superior Court of California in the County of San Diego against Southwestern College. After reporting the discrimination, they claimed they were met with unworkable schedules, did not receive compensation for work completed, and more. The alleged harassment and retaliation led them to leave their tenured positions and seek employment elsewhere, according to a press release dated April 12 from the attorney representing the professors.

"It's shocking and tragic to see what these well-respected professors, beloved by their students and valued by the Southwestern community, were subjected to," Arash Sadat, their attorney, said in the release. "Not only legally, but ethically and morally."

Throughout her tenure, Kubischta became increasingly disturbed by racially discriminatory comments purportedly made by Southwestern College's Dental Hygiene Program Director Jean Honny, which Kubischta documented. Honny's comments included repeated warnings to "be careful" when dealing with African American and Muslim students, whom she often derisively referred to as "those people," according to the lawsuit.

Kubischta, a 2007 graduate of the Southwestern hygiene program who became a full-time tenured professor in 2018, reportedly became progressively more disturbed by racially insensitive comments made by Jean Honny, the school’s dental hygiene program director. In the suit, she claimed that Honny repeatedly warned to “be careful” when dealing with African American and Muslim students who the director often referred to as "those people," according to the release.

Additionally, Kubischta documented Honny’s comments and filed a formal complaint against her. In the complaint, Kubischta described numerous incidents of discrimination she witnessed, as well as complaints she heard about from students. Also, Kubischta stated in her complaint that she feared being retaliated against for reporting these incidents.

The allegations were substantiated, and a monthslong independent investigation concluded that Honny's comments were offensive and constituted "severe and pervasive" racial discrimination, according to the release.

Despite the claims being verified, administrators at the school allegedly didn't support Kubischta's reporting. Following the investigation, Dean Christine Perri purportedly violated district and education code policies when she advised Kubischta not to formally file any future complaints but instead to handle them "in-house." Perri's reported actions were a direct attempt to prohibit reporting to the district's Title IX department and human resources departments, according to the complaint.

Lukacs, who was recruited for a position as an adjunct professor at Southwestern in 2001 and became a full-time, tenured professor in 2008, alleged that students confided in her about discrimination. Lukacs claimed one student said that Southwestern professors "pick on their students that have an accent or dark skin ... [and grade] us differently from white people," according to the release.

Lukacs alleged that another student was so overwhelmed that she had suicidal thoughts and a third student was taking medication to cope, according to the release.

As mandatory reporters, Kubischta and Lukacs were required to address these issues with the district Title IX department and human resources. Their report included 12 attachments authored by students. The students' accounts vividly detailed discrimination, bullying, intimidation, unwarranted physical touch, verbal abuse, and retribution, according to the release.

Over time, the alleged retaliation against the professors intensified into a toxic work environment. Administrators purportedly gave Kubischta and Lukacs unworkable class schedule changes, refused to reply to work-related planning and coordination emails, and would not allow them to teach remotely during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic while others had the right to do so, according to the suit.

Furthermore, Kubischta alleged that the school refused to pay her for completing noncontract that Honny and Perri had previously approved and assigned her a class that she had no background to teach. Lukacs claimed that she was removed from a class she had taught for a decade and was replaced with an inexperienced new hire.

On the same day, Kubischta and Lukacs were notified that they had been placed on administrative leave. The women chose to leave their positions and look for work elsewhere, which they claimed caused considerable emotional and financial harm.

"They spoke out against wrongdoing, but the college attempted to silence them rather than take responsibility," Sadat said. "We intend to see to it that Southwestern's efforts to evade accountability will soon come to an end."

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