A 25-year-old Chilean PhD student at Columbia University’s nephrology department has filed suit against the school and some of its employees, claiming that unwanted sexual advances from his supervisor and subsequent hostility from the department and the school's human-resources office led to his being unfairly fired. Did we mention the unwanted sexual advances came on the mobile gay hookup app Grindr?
According to Alberto Leguina, his gig working under supervisor Qais Al-Awqati in the nephrology was a dream job until it quickly turned into a nightmare. He says that shortly after he started working in the nephrology division of the department of medicine he was approached on Grindr by his boss—while he was at work. On March 9 he says he was sent a message on the service asking if he "would date an older man," which he promptly ignored. When it was followed up by a picture of Al-Awqati he assumed it was a prank. But apparently it wasn't:
However, the response convinced him the message really was from the professor. “I have many guys as beautiful and as young as you,” Al-Awqati responded on Grindr, according to the lawsuit. “So it is not a joke. You need to have better manners when in New York. Maybe in Argentina or Chile, you are a spoiled Mamma’s boy.”
Leguina said he was confused—was this really one of the leading experts in hypertension? “Qais Al-Awqati was the one who I wanted to work with. He’s a reference for me,” he said. “It was my dream. I was doing what I wanted, I was working on what I wanted, with whom I really wanted to work.”
While Leguina did not have screenshots of the exchange, he said that he was working to get Grindr to provide them for trial.
As soon as Leguina rejected the advance, Al-Awqati, who was in the next room, stormed out and screamed “You are out!” Leguina said he began to cry and felt panicked, thinking he’d been fired.
He wasn't fired just yet, however. On March 15 Leguina met with an HR official who promised that nothing would happen and that an investigation would occur. Instead however, he says he was told a few days later to simply "deal with this matter as a big man" and that he "must pretend nothing happened" or be prepared to return to Chile.
After that Leguina says he continued to work in the office—and that Al-Aqwati apparently gave him a MacBook to apologize—but that work conditions became colder and colder. He tells the Columbia Spectator that "in the moment everything was super aggressive and it was terrible. I was feeling so bad, I couldn’t sleep. I was shaking in the morning thinking about how I had to go to the lab, what was going to happen today." He says that HR did not help with any of this, instead telling him "Your mind is clouded and your stress is simply because you are from a small country and this is New York and you just need to learn."
Work conditions continued to deteriorate, Leguina says, and on June 8 he received an e-mail from his supervisors in Chile telling him that due to poor feedback he needed to leave his position and return to Chile. According to the suit he was terminated on June 12—though nobody told him about it and he only discovered his lack of a job when he couldn't log into a school computer.
A pretrial conference for the case is scheduled for October 1. Neither Columbia or Al-Aqwati is currently responding to the lawsuit in public. Meanwhile, this is a good example of why you really shouldn't be using apps like Grindr at work.