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Over a year ago, a female student was sexually harassed by a LaGuardia Community College professor in her Brooklyn apartment. Today, her struggle for justice continues.
On October 4th, 2018, “Jane Doe” filed a suit against the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), and the accused professor, Mr. Hany Fam. Represented by C.A. Goldberg PLLC, the same firm that represents two of ex-film producer HarveyWeinstein’s alleged victims, the anonymous student seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Jane Doe enrolled as a Liberal Arts major at LaGuardia in the Fall semester of 2017. With hopes of becoming an occupational therapist, she enrolled in Human Anatomy and Physiology, a course taught by Mr. Fam, then a LAGCC professor. On October 5th, 2017, the student sought out academic assistance from Mr. Fam in an e-mail inquiring about his office hours. Mr. Fam replied to her email later that day, asking for her phone number and both parties eventually agreed to meet on October 9th, 2017.
In text messages sent by Mr. Fam on October the 9th, he requested the meeting take place at Ms. Doe’s apartment and asked for her address. After suggesting more than once that she and Mr. Fam meet at a public place, and in fear of offending the insistent professor, the student relented and gave him her address.
Upon learning of these events, Kenneth Anaya, 20, a Criminal Justice major at LAGCC expressed his disdain for the alleged actions of the former professor. “The minute he asked to meet up at her apartment, that’s all you really needed. This should not have happened and at that point I wouldn’t want a professor at this school who is asking that. Doesn’t matter what he wanted, regardless, he wanted to meet at her house and that’s not acceptable,” he explained.
Mr. Fam arrived at the student’s apartment at approximately 5 pm. Upon his arrival, he kissed her on the cheek and handed her a bag that contained a bottle of wine. While they spoke, he repeatedly tried to hold Ms. Doe’s hand, and “unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a scar… [claiming] to have a heart condition that left him with just a few years to live,” according to court documents. Attempting to distance herself from him, she went to the kitchen, but Mr. Fam followed. After leaning in to hug her, he poured two glasses of wine and repeatedly encouraged Ms. Doe to drink, but she declined. “He said that he could make things much easier for her, and repeatedly asked if she would be his ‘friend’,” as alleged in court documents.
When the student asked what he meant by friend, Mr. Fam confirmed he meant sex, and suggested they meet once a week. He also stated that other professors have these kinds of arrangements with students. After the student made it clear that she was not interested in being Mr. Fam’s friend, he became irritated and told her that she was too uptight. He then handed her what appeared to be questions and answers for the following days’ scheduled quiz. Before he left her apartment, Mr. Fam told the student “she could have a very easy semester, but said ‘good luck’ if she wanted to take the ‘hard route’,” the court documents state.
“I’m disgusted,” says Precious Torres, 20, a Deaf Studies major at LAGCC. She continues: “I hope she’s okay…just saying that other professors have this kind of arrangements is horrifying.”
Ms. Doe did not return to her Human Anatomy and Physiology class. Instead, she reported his harassment to LAGCC, in a letter sent by her counsel to Maria Cook, LaGuardia’s Chief Legal Representative, on October 18th, 2017.
Nearly three weeks later, on November 7th, 2017, the anonymous student detailed her experiences in an in-person meeting with Christopher Carozza, LaGCC’s Affirmative Action Officer. November 7th, 2017 was also Mr. Fam’s last day in a LaGuardia classroom.
An investigation was carried out by Mr. Carozza and on January 19th, 2018, Ms. Doe received a determination letter from LaGuardia, deeming her allegations against Mr. Fam to be substantiated. He was officially terminated from LAGCC on March 20th, 2018.
Despite Mr. Fam being found to have violated CUNY’s policy on sexual misconduct, he reportedly remained employed by York College, another CUNY school. He was employed there for the better part of a year, until mid-October of 2018, when a New York Post article was published, detailing the civil suit. When asked the exact date of Mr. Fam’s termination from York College, an anonymous spokesperson from the administration said, “HR told me they don’t give out details on employees’ files, present or past.”
Genesis Perez, 20, a Liberal Arts major at LAGCC reacted to the action of CUNY administrators. “They didn’t really do anything… [he] still had a job. If he violated CUNY [policy], York is part of CUNY. So why was he still employed by CUNY?”
Mr. Fam was reportedly also listed as a professor by Adelphi University, teaching an Anatomy course in the Fall 2018 semester. While Adelphi has removed him from their website’s list of adjunct faculty, the official date of his termination is unclear. Officials at Adelphi have declined to comment on the former professor.
The suit describes Mr. Fam’s actions as “atrocious…beyond all possible boundaries of decency.” Ms. Doe alleges that Mr. Fam intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, which in turn has had a dark effect on her everyday life. Feelings of panic, betrayal, and depression have negatively affected her ability to work, sleep, and feel safe in her own home.” The court documents go on to explain: “in addition to lost wages, and financial aid that the student lost, she has also fallen at least one semester behind academically. Her future earnings potential has significantly diminished.”
The suit also claims that CUNY and LAGCC’s response to the situation was unreasonable and insufficient. Part of the corrective actions taken by LAGCC was to cover the costs of the student’s course materials and of her re-enrollment in Human Anatomy and Physiology I, providing free psychological support services to the student only while she remained enrolled at LAGCC. According to the suit, LAGCC refused to remove the “W” grade from Ms. Doe’s transcript, even after she specifically requested to be withdrawn from Mr. Fam’s class without a mark on her record.
In a statement provided by Elizabeth Streich, LAGCC’s Public Relations manager, and signed by Dr. Nireata Seals, Vice President of Student Affairs, LAGCC reaffirms their conviction to its student body’s well-being, stating: “the safety of our students is paramount, and we take seriously any allegation of sexual misconduct. As soon as this complaint was received, Mr. Fam was immediately removed from teaching and an investigation was initiated… he is no longer eligible to teach at LaGuardia.”
On January 25th , 2019, Ms. Doe filed a motion, which, if granted, would allow her to continue pursuing the case under the pseudonym Jane Doe. The document cites the risk of further emotional and mental harm to Ms. Doe, should she be forced to use her real name. In a response to this motion, submitted by Mr. Fam’s counsel on February 1st, 2019, the allegations are described as “false accusations” and a request is made to have Ms. Doe’s motion denied. Mr. Fam’s lawyer has also declined to comment on the case at this time.
The open case against LAGCC, CUNY, and Mr. Fam has raised important questions of the administration and the way they handle similar cases. With changes to Title IX regulations looming, the investigation process for claims of sexual misconduct is expected to undergo a massive overhaul. As for Ms. Doe, her quest to recover damages and a normal life continues, reminding us of the real-life implications of sexual harassment laws, especially for a student.