University attempts to quash emotional distress lawsuit

The University filed earlier this month for D.C. Superior Court to toss out a lawsuit from a former student who alleged that his academic adviser stole his work and mistreated him, causing him to become suicidal.

The University claimed that Mazdak Taghioskoui’s case cannot be upheld in court because GW and the former student held a contractual relationship, in which it is not valid to say one individual’s behavior causes another to suffer harm through the court’s definition.

Taghioskoui, a 31-year-old Iran native, filed his case in court Sept. 4, suing the University for $1 million after professor Abkar Montaser allegedly filed for patents using Taghioskoui’s work while he was a Ph.D. student in the engineering department.

Montaser’s behavior turned erratic in 2005 – when he was diagnosed with cancer, according to the former student’s complaint. He began sending “inappropriate” and “demeaning” emails to Taghioskoui and other staff, according to Taghioskoui’s complaint.

Taghioskoui became suicidal over the next three years, according to the complaint, seeking help from GW’s suicide hotline and mental health services starting in 2008 because of Montaser’s behavior and GW’s failure to take action.

“Unfortunately, many of Dr. Montaser’s colleagues, including the department chair and faculty members, noticed Dr. Montaser’s erratic and bizarre behavior but did not seem to take it seriously,” Taghioskoui said. “Later on, GW administrators also noticed his disruptive behavior and did not handle it properly.”

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said Montaser retired in August 2012. She declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a University policy to not comment on pending litigation.

If the judge approves the University’s call to dismiss the case, filed Nov. 1., Taghioskoui said he would be “very disappointed” with the court for not hearing the evidence before ruling.

“Filing a lawsuit was really a last resort and not the best option for me to resolve the issues, as no Ph.D. student wants to have to sue their professors or university,” Taghioskoui said. “But I reached a point where I had no other options, as I had tried to resolve matters through every possible office at GW who could have addressed matters properly, but they all failed to do so.”

“I would like to correct the system, as there should be no need for filing a lawsuit to make a university follow its own code of academic integrity,” he added.

Taghioskoui began working with Montaser when he enrolled in the chemistry master’s program in 2005, according to his complaint. He met Montaser through mutual friends at the Sharif University of Technology in Iran, when the professor promised Taghioskoui full financial aid at GW.

The former student said he sometimes worked 70 to 80 hours a week to receive some financial aid, but was not given a full scholarship.

After earning his master’s degree, Taghioskoui enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate in 2007 and took on Montaser as his Ph.D. adviser. During that time, Montaser allegedly verbally harassed Taghioskoui over the phone on weekends and early mornings, asking him to borrow money and a car, among several other personal requests.

The University placed Montaser on administrative leave from April 2008 to January 2010 for erratic behavior, according to the complaint. During the professor’s absence, Taghioskoui alleged that the University failed to assist with him with graduation requirements, causing a delay in his degree progress.

Taghioskoui said he knows several international students across the country and at GW facing similar abusive situations in graduate and Ph.D. programs, but who are unable to do anything about it because of time and money. He hopes to start a nonprofit in the coming years to aid students in similar situations.

“There is an inherent conflict of interest between a graduate student and the academic adviser,” Taghioskoui said. “Unfortunately, the system works based on the assumption that the academic adviser won’t abuse their power within the system, but unfortunately many do.”

Montaser did not return a request for comment.

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