A student at the Chicago School for Professional Psychology has sued the graduate school, alleging that faculty and administrators did not respond after she complained other students used persistent accusations of racism to harass and bully her, and that those accusations later underpinned its decision to deny her placement in an internship program, hampering her career prospects.
On Jan. 3, Jennifer DiPerna of Ohio filed suit in Chicago’s federal court against The Chicago School; faculty members Virginia Quinonez, Luke Mudd and Patricia Perez; and 10 potential “John Does” defendants, alleging negligence and breach of contract.
In her complaint, DiPerna asked the court to issue an injunction against The Chicago School, order it to lift her suspension, place her in its internship program and address her complaints regarding the harassment, bullying and slander DiPerna claims she has been subjected to at the school.
DiPerna is being represented in by Jason J. Bach of the Bach Law Firm LLC in Las Vegas and Elliot Richardson of Korey Cotter Heather & Richardson in Chicago.
The action centers around the August 2013 decision by The Chicago School to keep DiPerna out an internship placement program after other students, including at least one African-American student, identified in the complaint only as Shakira, accused her of racism.
DiPerna, who had been a student at The Chicago School since January 2013, asserts that her troubles began in April.
At that time, the suit states, she took part in an “Immersion Project for Diversity” with other students, including Shakira.
During a discussion, DiPerna contends Shakira overreacted to her statement that “she saw all races as equal and did not judge anybody based upon their race.”
From there, DiPerna claims Shakira and other students wrote to professors “falsely accusing [her] of being racist” and then “began a campaign of bullying, harassment, slander and defamation,” telling other students and faculty that she “was a racist.”
The harassment, according to her suit, included confrontations in the hallways of the school.
DiPerna alleges that she informed faculty of the harassment, but “nonetheless, the bullying, harassment and slander continued and nobody … took any action.”
In July, shortly after allegations of racism surfaced against celebrity chef Paula Deen, DiPerna posted an image to her Instagram social media account which she claims was “clearly intended as an insult toward Paula Deen and her alleged intolerant beliefs toward African American people.”
However, DiPerna claims the students, who had continued to harass her, reported her Instagram post to faculty at the school. The faculty then called a meeting with DiPerna to discuss what they believed to be “inappropriate,” as it “contained a derogatory racial slur.”
DiPerna asserts in her suit that she was not allowed to defend herself at the meeting, and school officials did not take into account the context of her Instagram post, or her past record of complaints of harassment and bullying from the same students who went on to accuse her of offensive behavior.
The school’s Student Affairs Committee in August then cited the Instagram post as justification for excluding her from the internship placement program, according to the complaint that notes that decision was upheld in a later meeting in September.
DiPerna argues in her complaint that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious,” violated the school’s policies and its mission, and represented a breach of contract, as it unfairly deprived her of the ability to further her education and her career.
As a result of the incidents described in her suit, DiPerna claims she has “suffered serious psychological injury, loss of community reputation, medical expenses …deprivation of liberty, invasion of privacy, and grievous mental suffering,” as well as the costs associated with having to hire attorneys to bring the action.
She has requested a jury trial and unspecified damages.