Former Virginia College student alleges sexual harassment, college fires back

Former Virginia College student alleges sexual harassment, college fires back
Attorney Julian McPhillips and Brittney Tyus, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Virginia College and one of their former instructors (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Attorney Julian McPhillips and Brittney Tyus, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Virginia College and one of their former instructors (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A former nursing student is suing a college in Montgomery and one of its former instructors, alleging unwanted and inappropriate advances by the man who taught her physiology, anatomy and microbiology.

The woman has filed a lawsuit, claiming the misconduct went on for more than a year at Virginia College on Atlanta Highway.

The college denies the allegations.

Army veteran Brittney Tyus filed the lawsuit and says she was sexually harassed by a former professor who no longer teaches at Virginia College. At first, she says it was inappropriate statements and then it escalated into physical contact.

"From October of 2013 until November of last year, it was just sexual comments. He would just state how good we looked or if we had siblings, how he would so hit that," she said. "Then one day he noticed that I wasn't wearing my wedding ring because I sent it off to be rhodium-plated and he said I looked like I could use some comforting. He rubbed from my neck all the way down to my buttocks."

Tyus says the instructor retaliated against her when she reported him.

"He changed grades multiple times in my portal because I went and talked to someone about it," she said.

She withdrew over the tension.

Current student Deana Gray, a mother of three who is pursuing her nursing degree, had the same teacher.

"His wording of things was not professional. He made remarks just off the cuff about sex and this, that and the other and it made me feel uncomfortable but I'm trying to get a degree. I just persevered trying to get out of his class knowing that I only had to look at him for so many more days and it would be over with," she said.

Attorney Julian McPhillips says in order to fight her claim against the former instructor, Tyus has gotten roped into costly arbitration with the college.

"It's no way to treat a lady much less a veteran who spent 14 months in Afghanistan," he said. "An arbitration agreement is an albatross that will cost her a lot of money out of pocket to make it impossible for her to pursue her claim."

An arbitration takes place before an arbitrator who is chosen by the parties involved. McPhillps says the students were never told that they were being bound by such an agreement, which Virginia College officials say is part of enrollment.

"If you do have an arbitrator, there will be cost on both sides, maybe as much as a $1000 a day for the arbitrator to hear it. So if it's a two-day hearing that gets stretched into 10 days, she can end up owing $10,000," McPhillips added. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I call on Virginia College to withdraw and drop all arbitration agreements. It's a fraud. It's a deceit. They should know better than to subject their students to such trickery as arbitration. It's an albatross and it's unjust."

Marine Corps veteran Jasmine Williams has also stepped forward, claiming she was unfairly kicked out of Virginia College when she asked the president why she had not received books or an instructor for the first three weeks of school.

"I was very upset," she said. "I was disenrolled. I didn't understand. I just asked a question."

Virginia College President Madeline Little had no comment on Jasmine Williams' claims but did address Tyus' sexual harassment lawsuit, saying that an investigation was conducted with the guidance of the Human Resources Department.

"Professional conduct by Virginia College staff is expected at all times, and the College does not tolerate sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. The reported lawsuit alleges sexual harassment by a former College instructor.  These are serious allegations that were thoroughly and fairly investigated by the College.  The College denies these allegations and will aggressively defend itself against these claims in the appropriate forum," she stated.

Little indicated that the sexual harassment lawsuit has not gone to court yet but that a judge verbally ruled in the college's favor on the arbitration matter.

Julian McPhillips, meanwhile, is also calling on the military to look into Virginia College's practices, including arbitration and students using their GI benefits.

According to President Little, external audits by Veterans Affairs have been done regularly on the college with no citations.

Brittney Tyus says the legal process she's faced has been stressful.

"I just hope that they become a better school and deliver what they're supposed to," she said. "If someone is doing you wrong, no matter who it is or where you are, you can always stand up for yourself because if you don't, no one else will."

Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.