Pittsford, N.Y. (WHAM) - A suspended professor at St. John Fisher College who is nationally recognized and popular with students has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $1 million from the college, its president and three others.
Dr. Merouane Lakehal-Ayat was suspended more than a year ago. The lawsuit said he was, "persecuted and discriminated against because of who he is and what he believes."
"The respect I have for the college is enormous. This is what makes it hard for me," Dr. Lakehal-Ayat told 13 WHAM's Jane Flasch.
Dr. Lakehal-Ayat says teaching has been his life's work, and more.
"When you're a teacher, you serve," Dr. Lakehal-Ayat said. "To be deprived of the most precious thing is hard for me."
In November 2017, two weeks after posting an online article congratulating him for earning his fifth Fullbright Fellowship, Dr. Lakehal-Ayat was put on suspension and immediately banned from campus. His phone and email privileges were revoked. For months, he said he was not given a reason for the suspension.
Eventually he was accused of, "abandoning his teaching duties," for relying too heavily on teaching assistants. In September, 13WHAM News first reported the move was a violation of college statutes.
In a 35-page lawsuit filed Monday, Dr. Lakehal-Ayat called what happened "discrimination" based on the fact he is Algerian, Muslim and over the age of 70.
"He has been mistreated, he was denied a raise, he was retaliated against for complaining about discrimination," said Peter Glennon, the attorney for Dr. Lakehal-Ayat. "It just snowballed from there."
Earlier this year, dozens of former students called on the college and board of trustees to step in. Some told 13WHAM News they would withhold donations to the school.
"This is from my students, who I cherish," said Dr. Lakehal-Ayat. "That means everything I have done (for them) they have returned to me. I would say 100 times more."
This summer, a faculty committee met for months behind closed doors to hear from witnesses in the case. Dr. Lakehal-Ayat said he pressed for the hearing because those bringing the charges against him had failed to follow up their accusations. The committee recommended that all charges be dropped and that he be fully reinstated.
More than two months later, there has been no action. Glennon said the inaction left them no choice because the deadline for filing a federal lawsuit was quickly approaching. "There is a time for the college to do the right thing where all parties can heal," he said. "Forgiveness is possible. Dr. Lakehal-Ayat has a big heart and loves this college."
Dr. Lakehal-Ayat said he just wants to get back into the classroom and for the damage to his reputation to be repaired.
"If there comes a time when I have to stop teaching, I want it to be on my terms," Dr. Lakehal-Ayat said.
St. John Fisher College did not respond to three different requests for comment Monday.
Updated on Tuesday morning: A spokesman for St. John Fisher tells 13 WHAM News this faculty member is the subject of an ongoing disciplinary investigation regarding academic misconduct. The College’s policy is to refrain from commenting on employee disciplinary matters, and pending litigation. The faculty member remains on paid leave until the conclusion of the disciplinary investigation.