University Assignments Don’t Violate the Rights of the People Mentioned in the Assignments

From Paintedcrow v. Columbia Univ. School of Social Work (N.Y. trial court Feb. 22, 2012) (some paragraph breaks added):

[P]laintiff alleges that defendant Helen Benedict …, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, published The Lonely Soldier, which describes the experiences of several female soldiers serving in the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Plaintiff’s photograph appears on the book’s cover and she is prominently represented in the book which is based in part on interviews that she gave to Benedict. Plaintiff complains that the book portrays her and the other female soldiers as “passive victims,” which plaintiff contends presents a distorted picture. Plaintiff claims that in November of 2010, well after the book was published, the individual defendants, other than Benedict, chose to use the book as part of an academic assignment at the School.

According to the Amended Complaint the assignment which is known as the Capstone Project …, required students to read the book and formulate diagnoses and hypothetical treatment plans for the conditions suffered by the women described in the book, including plaintiff, who alleges that she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. None of the students who took part in the Project is alleged to have contacted plaintiff or to have been provided any information about plaintiff other than what appears in the book, except for one student who contacted plaintiff to request permission to use plaintiff’s photograph as part of her class presentation.

In April of 2011, defendant Prof. Marion Riedel (Riedel) invited plaintiff to attend the Project panel discussions and to speak to the students and faculty about her experiences. In response, plaintiff called Riedel the following day and asked to be flown to New York, at the school’s expense, to “negotiate a modification” of the assignment which was to be presented by the students two weeks later. Riedel declined plaintiff’s request, and defendant Jeanette Takamura … offered to confer with plaintiff by video conference, but plaintiff declined.

The following day plaintiff flew to New York at her own expense, and requested a meeting with Takamura. On May 3, 2011, Takamura advised plaintiff that she would meet with her the following day, and at said meeting Takamura explained to plaintiff that the school would not alter the assignment. Nonetheless, plaintiff attended the Project panel discussions despite the defendants refusal to modify the assignment.

At the Project panel discussions on May 6, 2011, the students presented their reports and plaintiff alleges in her Amended Complaint that she suffered “emotional pain, humiliation, anguish and embarrassment” as a result of this “public presentation” of the “distorted portrayal of her psyche and identity” that is embodied in the book.

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges six causes of action: (1) disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); (2) disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act; (3) disability discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Code (HRL); (4) racially motivated conspiracy under 42 USC § 1985; (5) racially motivated discrimination under HRL; and (6) social work malpractice….

No dice, says the court, as to all the claims, and quite correctly so.

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