A Pima Community College official, accused of calling an Anglo student a "bigot and a bitch" when she complained about fellow students speaking Spanish in class, says the accusation is false.
David L. Kutzler, PCC's nursing program director, says he's been peppered with hate mail and "foul-mouthed" voice mails since the English-speaking student launched a lawsuit over her claim and held a news conference to make it public.
The student, Terri Bennett, 50, of Tucson, says she was suspended in May after complaining to Kutzler and other officials that she couldn't study properly because Spanish-speaking students chatted incessantly and translated aloud for each other during class.
She says PCC wrongly accused her of "displaying intimidating behavior to students, faculty and staff" at the Desert Vista Campus in order to justify her nine-month suspension.
Bennett's lawsuit is being bankrolled in part by a Virginia-based group, ProEnglish, that says its mission is to promote use of the English language.
Critics say the outfit is a racist organization whose members are tied to anti-immigrant hate groups, a charge ProEnglish denies.
In an email interview Friday, Kutzler, 62, challenged Bennett's version of events.
"Ms. Bennett came to me to complain that she was fed up with students speaking Spanish in her classroom," and identified two such students, Kutzler said.
When he asked the class instructor about it, the instructor said the Spanish-speakers kept their voices low and were not disruptive, he said.
"In a classroom of adult learners, it's normal for students to quietly ask each other questions or comment on the lecture content," he said.
Kutzler said the words "bigot" and bitch" were uttered by Bennett, not him.
When he told her he couldn't force people to speak English in private conversations and that to do so "could easily be construed as bigoted," she "angrily declared, 'I'm not a bigot!' " Kutzler said.
Later in the conversation, "Ms. Bennett became exasperated and angrily said, 'Oh, so now I'm the bitch!' " Kutzler said.
John Munger, the Tucson lawyer representing Bennett, had no comment Friday.
"I don't want to try this case in the media," said Munger, who recently led a media event outside the Pima County Courthouse to publicize Bennett's claims.
Munger said he plans to seek damages on Bennett's behalf and will ask a judge to overturn her suspension.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4138.