College students often are unhappy with their grades or upset with professors.
But in Carlos Bayon’s case, something extraordinary happened: He sued the University at Buffalo and walked out of federal court with a $601,000 verdict.
A jury recently awarded the money to Bayon, 49, of Lewiston, after he claimed that unfair treatment from faculty members prevented him from earning a doctorate at the UB Department of Anthropology.
State officials said it is believed to be the largest such verdict awarded to a former student of New York’s university system. Bayon’s legal fight, so far, has taken more than six years.
In his lawsuit, Bayon accused members of the UB anthropology faculty of giving him low grades in 1997 to retaliate against him for filing a number of discrimination complaints against them. A native of Puerto Rico who walks slowly with a cane, Bayon said those low grades—a D and a C in two key courses—caused him to lose his financial assistance and forced him to leave graduate school at UB.
Ultimately, Judge John T. Elfvin dismissed the discrimination complaints based on race, nationality and disability, but he allowed Bayon’s retaliation complaint to go to trial. The verdict was awarded in Elfvin’s court May 5.
A state attorney, Ann C. Williams, has asked Elfvin to overturn the verdict. In court papers, Williams said the only reason for Bayon’s problems at UB was his own “poor academic performance.”
Any adverse actions taken against Bayon at UB were for “legitimate academic reasons,” Williams argued.
A spokesman for UB and the State Attorney General’s office declined to discuss the case.
In court papers and trial testimony, though, UB officials vehemently denied any discrimination against Bayon. They also denied that anyone at the university retaliated against him for filing a complaint.
His original lawsuit, filed in 1998, accused UB faculty of discriminating against him on the basis of race, nationality and disability. He said professors repeatedly refused to give him special accommodations to complete tests or papers, even though he was registered as a disabled student with UB’s office of disability services.
The 1998 lawsuit accused one professor of saying he wanted an “elite group” of anthropology graduate students with an “excellent command of English.” Bayon also charged that the Anthropology Department’s qualifying exam is “a tool of racist discrimination and biased against minority students.”