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News >  Idaho

Former NIC student files bias lawsuit

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer

A former North Idaho College student and her husband are suing the college for alleged breach of contract and discrimination.

Maria Emerson and her husband, Mark, filed a lawsuit in Kootenai County Court on Friday. Last spring, Maria Emerson filed a tort claim against the college seeking $1 million in damages. The college took no action, allowing the Emersons to proceed with a lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks “damages in an amount to be shown at trial.”

“We believe the charges are without merit,” NIC spokesman Kent Propst said Wednesday. The college hadn’t been served with court papers as of Wednesday afternoon.

According to the lawsuit, Maria Emerson enrolled in the college’s Practical Nursing Program in the fall of 2003 and was in a class taught by Jennifer Gabriel-Hickman. Emerson is alleging that the instructor “made false allegations” against her and “created a hostile environment.”

Emerson claims in the lawsuit that Gabriel-Hickman “terminated” Emerson from the program in December 2003. Emerson claims the college didn’t grant her due process as outlined in the student handbook before terminating her from the program.

Gabriel-Hickman, now employed by Washington State University in Spokane, would not comment Wednesday, referring all questions to NIC.

Emerson, a Careywood resident, did not return calls seeking comment this week, but her attorney Dustin Deissner said Emerson believed the termination was related to her age, disability and Latin descent. Deissner did not specify the nature of Emerson’s disability.

She was 48 in the spring of 2004 when she filed the tort claim, or letter of intent to sue. According to the tort claim, “Emerson was the oldest person in the class” and Gabriel-Hickman was “substantially younger.”

The tort claim alleges that the instructor made false claims that Emerson had a tendency toward violence and hostility. Emerson claims Gabriel-Hickman also “made defamatory statements to third parties about Emerson’s educational and professional abilities” and “treated Emerson differently than other students in the program.”

According to NIC, Gabriel-Hickman was hired in August 2002 and worked for the college until July 2004.

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