Former nursing student sues 2 community colleges

 Suit claims adverse reference was defamation

By Roxana Hegeman
Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former nursing student filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against two community colleges in Kansas over an adverse and secret clinical reference she contends destroyed her educational and employment opportunities.

Rebecca A. Lemon sued Coffeyville Community College and a nursing program instructor for defamation. Her lawsuit also claims the college falsely assured her when she enrolled that its nursing program would be accredited.

Lemon is also seeking a court order requiring Labette Community College and its nursing director to disclose the identity of the person whose reference was the basis of her denial to that school’s nursing program. She wants copies of her educational records, including a copy of the adverse recommendation, and a court order forcing the college to admit her into its nursing program.

The colleges and the two employees named as defendants did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. Lemon’s attorney, Ray Simmons, declined to comment on the filing.

In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita, Lemon contends she graduated in December 2012 from the Coffeyville program with a 4.0 grade point average in the core nursing courses and a 3.92 overall grade point average. She was certified as a licensed practical nurse the month later by the Kansas Board of Nursing.

Lemon was accepted into Coffeyville’s resident nursing program, but instead wanted to go to an accredited school, according to the lawsuit. She took prerequisite classes at Labette Community College in order to enter its accredited resident nursing program.

But when she applied to Labette Community College’s nursing program, she learned she would not be accepted because of an “adverse comments that were made in one of the clinical reference forms from the Coffeyville school, according to the lawsuit.

The nursing director at Labette initially refused her notarized request for a copy of her educational records, the suit contends. Lemon later obtained a one-page copy of her records and was told all other documents — including the clinical reference forms — had been shredded.

Labette refused to give her the opportunity see the reference or have a hearing to challenge its content, the suit contends.

Her lawsuit contends that even though she is a certified LPN, she cannot obtain employment as one because of that adverse clinical reference. She says her participation in the Coffeyville’s program was “a waste of time, energy, and money.”

The lawsuit accuses Anastasia O’Connell, a nursing program instructor at Coffeyville Community College, of defamation for allegedly making false statements and misrepresentations on the clinical reference form that went to Labette Community College.

She is seeking more than $75,000 in actual and compensatory damages from the Coffeyville school and O’Connell plus $75,000 for punitive damages from O’Connell. The lawsuit also seeks $20,000 from Coffeyville for “negligent misrepresentations” that caused her to enroll in the unaccredited school.

O’Connell did not immediately respond to email and phone messages. However, in response to a tort claim notice last month Coffeyville Community College denied any wrongful conduct, specifically denying that O’Connell submitted the adverse clinical reference and suggesting someone at a local medical center may have been the person responsible for it.