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Myrtle Beach city leaders and Horry Georgetown Technical College officials are working to provide city residents with skills and job placement opportunities through a pilot project. The short-term training for city residents is a train-to-work program in Myrtle Beach with an initial proposed start date of April 1. Photo by Janet Morgan/The Herald

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.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

(1) comment

Crescent Beach Guy

I believe Mr Perry has left out some critical information which may suggest he's trying to sway the reader rather than inform. For example, why is a student with a 5th grade reading skill taking an English class in an adult Technical College? How many students with learning disabilities enrolled in the College? Does the HGTC mission include "training" students with learning disabilities? Are there other entities that could help this student achieve the necessary college-level reading skill before she goes to HGTC? I also think his headline is inflammatory. What makes Lindquist's text racist? Has any court ruled that the student's claim of racism is warranted? Calling someone black is NOT racist, despite what the current narrative from media and some in government suggest. And those who don't agree are either pretending it is racist or lack the education or common sense to know it isn't racist. Why have we suddenly allowed a small group of poorly-informed or malfeasants to change what common sense has taught us for decades? What if she were Polish? The mention of taxonomy of one or more groups a person belongs to isn't racist or discriminatory. Treating them different BECAUSE they are in a group may be, however. Did this professor treat her different because she was black or because she required an inordinate amount of time MORE than any other student in his class? Is it fair to the other students in his class that he give her so much more time? If she wasn't capable of doing the work, she should NOT have been in HGTC. And the fact that Lindquist was frustrated by her demand for extra attention does not make anything in this case racist. He may have been careless in his text intended for someone else. But that doesn't make his actions racist. And no person with any common sense would accuse him of being racist. Stop destroying people's livelihoods (and lives) because some people can't accept that life is not fair.

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