A former Horry-Georgetown Technical College student filed a federal lawsuit against the school and one of its former English professors this week over a racist and profane text message that the professor inadvertently sent to the plaintiff when she was a student there, according to court records.
Ladaysha Berrien, who lives in the Burgess area, was an 18-year-old freshman with a documented learning disability when she enrolled in professor Sheryl Lindquist’s English class last year, according to the complaint, which was filed on Monday.
When HGTC switched to virtual classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berrien contacted Lindquist multiple times asking for help with an assignment.
Berrien’s mother also emailed the professor asking for clarification so she could help her daughter complete the assigned work, according to the complaint. The lawsuit stated that Lindquist “became annoyed” with Berrien for not being able to understand the assignment.
That led to the professor sending a text message to Berrien on Sept. 22, 2020, according to the lawsuit, which stated that Lindquist admitted she had intended to send the message to a “friend/colleague.”
“This black, NY girl is giving me fits has her mother involved,” Lindquist's message read, according to the lawsuit. “The mother sent me the girl’s documents for her LD: last year she had 5th grade reading and comprehension. WHY would not this ‘bitch’ just go collect her disability check and leave me alone? This is going to blow up yet and I catch the shrapnel.”
Berrien was devastated by the message and sent it to her mother, who then reported the incident to HGTC, according to the lawsuit.
Berrien’s mother then received an email from Lindquist apologizing for the text.
“Once again, I want to apologize for my bad and hurtful behavior,” Lindquist wrote, according to the lawsuit. “I know that my words come at a time when America is coming to grips with racism and truly bad behavior, in general.”
The exchange came just months after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer sparked demonstrations across the country.
Berrien’s lawsuit stated that the professor’s text message was not only racist but intended to divulge confidential personal information about the student’s learning disability.
A day after the text was sent, HGTC officials called a meeting with Marilyn Fore, the college’s president, and other top HGTC officials, according to the lawsuit. The college’s attorney and Berrien’s mother and her lawyer also participated.
“Dr. Fore stated that she was sorry for the alleged actions of Defendant Sheryl Lindquist, and that Defendant Horry Georgetown Technical College had zero tolerance for the alleged behavior,” the lawsuit stated. “Further, Dr. Fore stated that she needed time to investigate the incident.”
Six days later, the group met again, and this time Fore offered Berrien a scholarship to continue studying at HGTC, according to the lawsuit. Berrien declined the offer.
“Plaintiff stated that she did not feel comfortable continuing her education at Defendant HGTC because she is traumatized from what was said about her,” the lawsuit stated. “Plaintiff stated she is embarrassed that her disability has been shared with someone who does not have the right to or need to know.”
Berrien was reimbursed for her tuition and fees, according to the lawsuit, though “there was no agreement between the parties for compensation for Plaintiff’s furthering her education and the psychological trauma caused by the actions of Defendant Lindquist, employee of the Defendant HGTC.”
The following month, Berrien sent a demand letter to HGTC seeking to negotiate “a fair and reasonable settlement” that included fees for emotional therapy, tuition to attend a college of Berrien’s choice and attorney costs, according to the lawsuit. HGTC responded that the college could not commit to that process because of the ongoing investigation. Berrien then filed a complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission.
HGTC spokeswoman Nicole Hyman said in an email that the college was unaware of the lawsuit and HGTC officials do not comment on pending litigation. However, she noted that Lindquist is no longer employed by the college.
“HGTC stands on the belief of prohibiting discrimination and harassment of its students and employees on the basis of race, color, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, marital or family status, veteran status, political ideas, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions including, but not limited to, lactation in educational programs and/or activities,” HGTC said in a prepared statement. “The College is committed to inclusion, equity, and diversity. In support of this commitment, the College has an Inclusion & Diversity Council which seeks to bring diversity, inclusion, and equity to the forefront of the College’s culture. With inclusion as one of our core values, we strive for a college environment where all members can succeed in their professional and personal lives.”
Lindquist could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Berrien's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint also stated that the defendants violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "by allowing the racial discrimination to exist in the environment of higher education and the school system."
"Defendant Lindquist’s intentional, extreme and outrageous behavior of sending a volatile text message, directly to a student’s phone who was the subject of such foul, disrespectful, and offensive language, caused Plaintiff emotional and physical harm to include stress, anxiety, nightmares, and extreme embarrassment," the lawsuit stated.
Berrien has asked for a jury trial. She is seeking a judgment against Lindquist and HGTC, the items highlighted in her demand letter, as well as damages.