Former Nebraska Law Student Files Discrimination Suit Against School - Higher Education

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Former Nebraska Law Student Files Discrimination Suit Against School

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by Margery A. Beck, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. — An Omaha man who was kicked out of the University of Nebraska’s law school just months before he was set to graduate is suing the school and others, saying he was discriminated against because of his Arabic heritage and Muslim beliefs.

Mohammad Al-Turk filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Nebraska’s federal court, naming the University of Nebraska College of Law, several law school officials, the University of Nebraska and the university’s Board of Regents as defendants.

The lawsuit says Al-Turk’s troubles began in his third year of law school when he suffered computer problems and was unable to turn in a rough draft of a paper due Oct. 22 for a comparative law class.

Al-Turk met with his professor, Brian Lepard, that day to explain why he could not turn in his paper and was told to turn it in when he could, according to the lawsuit. Al-Turk said he tried to re-create the paper from various notes and source materials he had previously prepared and turned in the rough draft several days after the deadline.

Soon after, Lepard determined that Al-Turk had plagiarized works in his paper, and unbeknownst to Al-Turk, reported to school officials that the student had violated the college’s honor code. Professor John Lenich was appointed to prosecute Al-Turk’s case before the school’s honor committee.

Al-Turk tried to negotiate a settlement, but the honor committee dismissed him in February. He had been set to graduate in August.

The lawsuit says Al-Turk was discriminated against based on his race and religion and that his constitutional right to due process was violated.

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“In those instances during the past five years where the College of Law and its honor code prosecutors have negotiated settlements of code violations with students imposing sanctions lesser than dismissal or withdrawal, said students were comprised largely of Caucasian students who were not Muslim,” the lawsuit says.

A spokeswoman for the University of Nebraska said she was unfamiliar with the lawsuit and could not comment Wednesday. She did not respond to an Associated Press request to speak on Lepard, Lenich and others named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Attorneys for Al-Turk did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

In a Nov. 2 meeting that was not recorded, Lepard told Al-Turk that he had been reported. Lepard and other law school officials later said Al-Turk admitted during that meeting that he had fabricated his computer problems and plagiarized work in his paper, an assertion Al-Turk denies in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Al-Turk twice attempted to discuss settling the matter with Lenich so he could stay enrolled, including submitting to a written reprimand and sanctions of some sort, actions the lawsuit says were “commensurate with what the [college] had imposed previously for code violations involving plagiarism.”

The lawsuit says Lenich first told Al-Turk that he could not discuss a settlement, then later told Al-Turk that “the only settlement the College of Law was willing to discuss was Al-Turk’s withdrawal … as a student.”

The school’s honor code specifically authorizes prosecutors to engage in negotiated settlements with an accused student, the lawsuit says, and that the college frequently engaged in settlement agreements for honor code violations, including plagiarism.

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Al-Turk took out thousands of dollars in student loans to attend NU’s law school and fully paid for the spring 2013 semester that he is now unable to complete, the lawsuit says. Al-Turk also says he will be unable to enroll at another accredited law school because of the disciplinary dismissal on his record.

Al-Turk was seeking unspecified damages and asked the court to impose injunctions on the university, law college and its officials to keep them from discriminating against others. Al-Turk has asked for a jury trial.

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