Augsburg graduate student sues for discrimination

The student was suspended after depositing a check twice and says she was mistreated.

Marion Renault

A Nigerian-born Augsburg College graduate student is suing the college for discrimination after a dispute over a financial aid check ended in her suspension.

Ugonwayi Ugo — who was enrolled in Augsburg’s Master of Social Work Program — deposited a copy of an old financial aid check in February 2013 that she had already cashed a year before.

Ugo contends the deposit was a mistake, one that led to her suspension and discrimination on the part of Augsburg, according to a complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court in early January. Augsburg denied those allegations in a response filed in late January.

Attorneys for both parties declined to comment on the specifics of the suit.

Ugo met with Augsburg Dean of Students Sarah Griesse to discuss the check soon after it was deposited.

At that meeting, the suit alleges that Griesse said, “When we hear about Nigerians, there’s always a red flag, because Nigerians are fraudulent. Based on that, I believe [Ugo] printed the check.” Augsburg denies that allegation.

Soon after, the college notified Ugo that she would be suspended until fall 2013. The next day, Ugo appealed the decision to a five-member panel. According to the complaint, the panel voted to overturn the suspension, which Augsburg denied in its response.

In mid-April, Griesse sent a letter stating that Ugo “knew or should have known it was a counterfeit check” and that the suspension had been affirmed by Ann Garvey, the college’s vice president of student affairs. After another hearing in May, Augsburg sent Ugo a letter extending her suspension through June 30, 2014.

The suit says Ugo repeatedly reported the discrimination and the school retaliated with suspension. It alleges that Augsburg violated its own discrimination policies, the Minnesota Human Rights Act and other state statutes.

Augsburg denied this and other allegations. In its response, the school pointed out that Ugo had initially filed a case with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights but that the organization dismissed the case because there was “no probable cause to credit the charging party’s allegation of an unfair discriminatory practice.”

Ugo’s suit contends that over the course of several months, Augsburg “created a hostile and intolerable educational environment” and cost her lost wages, attorneys’ fees and “anxiety, humiliation …  [and] mental anguish.” The suit seeks damages in excess of $100,000.

A trial ready date is set for March 2015.