In an ongoing legal battle with Stony Brook University, former Stony Brook University (SBU) student Danielle Sutton claims she was denied her 14th Amendment rights when she was “yanked” mid-semester out of her Fall 2017 student teaching internship without a hearing or signed, formal letter in the mail.
Sutton objected to a motion from the university in a letter filed on Aug. 19 to dismiss her amended complaint, filed April 15, against the university, two faculty members and former university president Samuel Stanley.
Sutton was dismissed from the graduate English education program, according to the complaint, for refusing to sign a teaching contract that was presented to her by the program director after she complained about her internship supervisor, Thomas Mangano.
The contract requested that among other things, Sutton compose and turn in written lesson plans, dress and behave professionally, regularly communicate with her supervisor and refrain from absences and tardiness. Sutton is requesting a preliminary injunction that would reinstate her student teaching internship, allow her to complete her degree in the education program, expunge her records of the dismissal and compensate her with $5 million.
The university has argued that Sutton was dismissed from her student internship because she demonstrated “serious issues of lateness, lack of preparation, and lack of professionalism from her first day of the placement.”
In the amended complaint, Sutton claims that Mangano subjected her to a hostile work environment during her internship after she refused repeated invitations to breakfast off-campus with him, both alone and with other students, and ignored repeated texts and phone calls from him.
Around Sept. 29, 2017, according to the complaint, Sutton complained to defendant Nicole Galante, lecturer and associate director for the English education program, about Mangano’s behavior and requested to switch supervisors. Sutton claimed that Galante notified Sutton that she should begin reporting to a different supervisor on Oct. 9, 2017.
According to the amended complaint, Galante held a grudge against Sutton for making the complaint and was concerned that the “Plaintiff might muddy the reputation” of the teaching program. On Oct. 11, 2017, according to court documents, Galante notified Sutton that she would no longer be representing SBU as a student teacher, although she could choose to remain in the program. Sutton claims that she did not receive a formal letter explaining why she was removed from her student teaching placement, nor receive a hearing before her dismissal.
According to the complaint, around Oct. 16, 2017, Galante emailed Sutton a teaching contract for Spring 2018. In an Oct. 16 email mentioned in court documents, Galante wrote that if Sutton did not sign the contract by Oct. 24, she would be dismissed from the program. Sutton did not sign the agreement and was dismissed on Oct. 25. She appealed the decision on Nov 5.
In the amended complaint, Sutton claims that “[Ken] Lindblom abused his power as Dean [in the School of Professional Development], by asking [defendant Charles] Taber and Melissa Jordan to bypass the written [appeal] policy.” She points to an Oct. 17 email from Taber to Jordan, senior assistant dean in the graduate school administration, in which Taber, former vice provost for graduate and professional education and dean of the Graduate School, asked, “Has a policy decision been made that SPD will not handle appeals through academic standing committee as written in the policy? Or has that already happened for this student and I just haven’t seen it?”
The complaint argues that Sutton’s treatment was a violation of Title IX regulations, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities. It further argues that the proposed contract violated Sutton’s First Amendment rights by “forcing Plaintiff to agree to terms and conditions — including a gender-based dress requirement that was gender bias stereotyping and that infringed on Plaintiff’s right to First Amendment free expression to choose how to dress.”
The amended complaint goes on to claim that the lack of a hearing, formal dismissal letter and proper appeal violated Sutton’s right to due process of law, as outlined in the 14th Amendment. The complaint argues that these actions also violated an “implied contract” between the university and individual students — in which students are allowed to complete their semester — and indicated negligence on the university’s part.