A civil suit brought by two former LSU Dental School students who say they were unfairly kicked out of the New Orleans school is set to begin Monday in a Baton Rouge courtroom. 

Jennifer Thien and Gina Nguyen, who were second-year students at the school, allege that it violated their due process rights in how it handled allegations against them and that by kicking them out, it treated them differently from other students accused of cheating.

LSU contends that the students' case was handled appropriately and that the expulsions were justified.

The incident began in the spring 2017 semester, when Thien took a quiz on behalf of another student who is not a party to the suit. That student, Thuy Doan, was suffering from insomnia, depression and anxiety, the suit says. Thien later took a second quiz for her friend. 

Nguyen, according to the suit, did not know about Thien's actions until after the first test had been taken, but learned of them before the second. Nguyen did not take any quizzes on Doan's behalf but did not report what she knew to school authorities.

Both students had no previous blemishes on their records, and when confronted, Thien admitted taking the quizzes on behalf of her friend. The suit notes that she did not gain any academic advantage from the quizzes, which represented only 3 percent of Doan's grade.

School officials Sandra Andrieu and professor Van. T. Himel, according to the suit, "confronted Jennifer and Gina in a coercive setting without informing them that they had a right to refuse to answer questions and/or refuse to give a written statement," the suit alleges.

In addition, it says, the school directed the discipline through a committee that Andrieu chairs when it should have gone through a different committee, one that includes student representatives. 

The committee decided to expel both students for "demonstrated unprofessionalism," the suit says. Other students accused of cheating have gone unpunished, the suit says.

When Thien and Nguyen appealed, the appeals also were handled by Andrieu's committee, which rejected them, the suit says. The action ended any hopes either woman had of becoming dentists, which both had "dreamed of" and "invested financially in," according to court documents.

Both have stipulated that they are not seeking more than $50,000 in damages. 

"All we want is our futures back," the pair said in a brief statement. Their attorney, Randall Smith, said the expulsion "would be the end of their professional lives."

Before entering dental school, Thien graduated summa cum laude from Dominican High School and then graduated from Loyola University. Nguyen was valedictorian at Morgan City High School and graduated from Tulane University. 

LSU has noted that the court has dismissed two defendants, Dental School Dean Henry Gremillion and Andrieu, and said the students have no due process claims. 

The two students' unprofessional behavior, according to the school, was academic in nature and provides a sound basis for their expulsion.

"The plaintiffs' admitted involvement in a cheating scheme and related professional misconduct supplied a legitimate and serious basis to dismiss" them, the school argues. 

Attorneys for LSU could not be reached for comment.

The case will be heard and decided by Judge Todd Hernandez of 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge because that's where LSU's board is based.

The trial is expected to last through Wednesday. 


Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.

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