A Southern University student says she was taken aback last summer when she asked one of her professors about her grade and, she claims, he replied, “Do you want me to grade you on your looks or your test scores?”
But what came next was much worse, Tawan Gradney alleges in a lawsuit against the Southern Board of Supervisors and Jeffrey Thomas, an assistant professor in the math department.
Gradney claims Thomas propositioned her over the course of several weeks, groped her in his office, and threatened to give her a D in his class if she didn’t sleep with him.
Gradney, whose suit claims she rejected Thomas’ advances, ended up with a D in the elementary statistics course, which is required for nursing school.
Gradney contends Southern was deliberately indifferent to the sexual harassment and discrimination complaint she made to school officials, who allegedly told her they “needed more proof.”
Southern released a statement Thursday through spokesman Henry Tillman, saying, “The University takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and is committed to maintaining a safe learning, working, and living environment for all.”
The statement says the school has “no further information on the lawsuit and no comment related to student and personnel matters.”
Gradney’s attorney, Crystal Bounds, said Southern has instituted a disciplinary proceeding against Thomas.
Thomas could not be reached for comment.
Gradney is seeking monetary damages from the university and Thomas.
“She was propositioned and intimidated by Thomas,” Bounds said Thursday.
Gradney’s suit, filed June 23 in the 19th Judicial District Court, alleges she asked Thomas last July about her grade while standing in a school hallway, and he replied by asking if she wanted him to grade her on her looks or her test scores.
Later that month, her suit alleges, Gradney went to Thomas’ office during his office hours to once again inquire about her grade, and Thomas “looked her up and down” and stated, “I don’t know if I can trust you” and “I don’t want you to have to drop my class.”
Johnson then allegedly said, “Right now, I can guarantee you a D, but I’ll give you a C if you give me a hug,” the suit states.
Gradney alleges she became extremely uncomfortable and turned toward the door to leave when Thomas grabbed her backpack strap attached to her arm, took the backpack off, closed the door, picked her up by her waist and sat her on a desk, “positioning his body between her legs.”
Gradney alleges she told him to move, and began pushing and kicking, saying she wanted to leave.
At that point, the suit alleges, Thomas told her, “I’m giving you options. Take the final and fail it or come back to my office.” Gradney alleges she told Thomas she was going to study for the final.
“You can study as hard as you want,” Thomas allegedly told Gradney. “I’m gonna grade the test.”
As she turned again to leave his office, Gradney alleges in her suit, Thomas grabbed her buttocks.
Later, on July 30, Thomas allegedly called Gradney on her cellphone, a number she had not given him, and told her that grades were due and she needed to come by his office and “do what you gotta do before I give you a D.”
She asked what he meant, the suit says, and Thomas allegedly answered, “sleep with me.”
Gradney says she contacted university officials that same day but was told they “needed more proof.” Gradney said she returned to Thomas’ office and recorded him saying, “do you want to cuddle for a C?” Gradney alleges she told him no, and as she walked away, Thomas said, referring to tuition, “your parents will have to pay all that money again.”
Gradney’s suit alleges that when she told a campus police officer what happened to her, the officer stated, “it happened again.” The dean of students also told her, “this is not the first time I’ve heard about Jeffrey Thomas,” her suit alleges.
In her suit, Gradney claims she was subjected to “unwelcome sex-based harassment, discrimination, assault and battery” by Thomas. She also alleges Southern was negligent in handling her complaint.
The suit has been assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields.