World

Arizona college requests over $300K from woman who sued over Spanish in class

An Arizona woman who filed a lawsuit against a local community college claiming her Constitutional right to free speech was violated when her classmates spoke Spanish has not only lost her case — she has also been hit with a request for reimbursement of the school's legal fees and taxable costs.

Arizona's Pima Community College filed a request late week seeking $310,829.96 in attorneys' fees and taxable costs from Terri Bennett and her co-defendant, the lobbying group called ProEnglish.

Bennett's lawyer, Andrew Barbour, acknowledged that he had received the request from Pima Community College, but he said he had not had time to review it.

"It's fair to assume that Ms. Bennett will not want to pay for any of this if the court decides to grant the reimbursement," Barbour told Fox News Latino.

Pima Community College did not confirm the amount of the reimbursement request. A spokesperson for the school, Libby Howell, said in a message to Fox News Latino that the college spent $10,000 on the Bennett case with rest covered by liability insurance. 

Bennett's case against Pima Community College drew national headlines back in 2013 when she first filed suit against the school.

According to Bennett, she was the only monolingual speaker in her Anatomy and Physiology class. In addition to feeling "ostracized, excluded, and segregated from the rest of her class" as a non-Spanish speaker, she claimed the language barrier was impeding her learning in the classroom and during group study sessions.

Bennett took her concerns to college administrators, telling them that that the language was preventing her from learning, and that she found the learning environment to be hostile to her as an English speaker.

To Bennett's surprise, the director of the nursing program accused her of "discriminating against Mexican-Americans" and threatened to "write [her] up for a violation of the code of conduct based on discrimination and harassment." According to Bennett's legal complaint, the director called Bennett a "bigot" and warned her saying, "[Y]ou do not want to go down that road."

During the days and weeks that followed, Bennett says the hostility grew both inside and outside of the classroom. She said she felt bullied as a result of her complaint and even received her first-ever negative progress report, which cited her "ineffective communication skills."

The hostility reached new levels weeks later, she said, when Bennett was escorted off campus by campus security officers who gave her a sealed envelope containing two letters, one advising her of her suspension. A month later, her suspension was upheld by the president of PCC's Desert Vista Campus.

The college presented evidence during the trial that she was hostile to Latinos and called them "spics, beaners and illegals," according to the Arizona Daily Star. Witnesses also testified that she intimidated students and staff.

Early this September, the Arizona Superior Court in Pima County sided with the community college.

"Terri Bennett did not receive justice," ProEnglish executive director Robert Vandervoort said in a press release. "We will now be reviewing and considering all legal options … This is a terrible blow for those of us seeking to preserve and protect the rights of English-speakers in a taxpayer-supported institution."

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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