Grad Student Says He Was Fired By Pervy Prof Who Hit On Him On Grindr

A PhD student at Columbia University’s nephrology department has filed suit, claiming sexual advances from his supervisor—and subsequent hostility from the department and human-resources office—led to his being unfairly fired.

Alberto Leguina-Ruzzi, 25, arrived in New York from Chile this spring and began working under Dr. Qais Al-Awqati, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at Columbia’s Medical Center. On March 9, just eight days after he started at the university, Leguina (right) received a Grindr message from someone alleging to be Al-Awqati, asking if he “would date an older man.”

Assuming it was a prank, he ignored the message. But another, more threatening one, followed: “I have many guys as beautiful and as young as you… So it is not a joke,” it read. “You need to have better manners when in New York. Maybe in Argentina or Chile, you are a spoiled Mamma’s boy.”

According to the lawsuit, that made Leguina believe Al-Awqati had sent the message—apparently from the next room. After being rebuffed, the professor supposedly stormed out and screamed “You are out!”

Leguina was directed by assistant professor Rosemary Sampogna, who witnessed the outburst, to contact human resources. There, HR manager Mayra Marte-Miraz initially told him an investigation would be launched and that his position was not in jeopardy.

But Marte-Miraz sang a different tune a few days later. The Columbia Spectator reports:

[She] allegedly told Leguina to “deal with this matter as a big man” and that he “must pretend nothing happened.” She threatened to send Leguina back to Chile if he hired a lawyer and told him he could not contact any authorities in Chile regarding the situation, according to Leguina.

“I agreed. In that moment I was scared, I was all by myself. I said, OK, I trust human resources. I said, maybe this is how you do it. I just want to work,” Leguina said.

During the meeting, Leguina also said Marte-Miraz said to him that if Al-Awqati was “young and sexy” Leguina would “not have said no to the sexual advance.”

Leguina responded that her comment seemed “very inappropriate for a human resources director to say,” but she shrugged him off, he said. He asked Marte-Miraz again about filing a formal complaint with EOAA and she said she was busy, giving him several excuses.

The following months were a roller-coaster ride: First Leguina’s amorous supervisor apologized for the overture and gave him a MacBook, though he wasn’t asked to sign for it or ever return it. Then Al-Aqwati and Sampogna both froze the grad student out: “I kept working hard, doing all my stuff… But in the moment everything was super aggressive and it was terrible,” Legiuna tells the Spectator. Things got so bad he had trouble sleeping and developed depression. “I was shaking in the morning thinking about how I had to go to the lab, what was going to happen today,” he says.

Leguina met again with Marte-Miraz, who told him the problem was that he was overwhelmed by the big city: “Your mind is clouded and your stress is simply because you are from a small country and this is New York. You just need to learn.”

Al-Awqati (left) who initially complimented Leguina’s skills, began complaining he had bad work habits and was frequently absent. (Leguina refutes these allegations, pointing to an award her won on March 19.)

Then, in early June, Leguina received an email from his supervisors in Chile saying that due to negative feedback from Al-Awqati he needed to leave his position and return home.

Leguina says that, though he was terminated on or about June 12, he was never given an formal notification:  “[Al-Awqati] couldn’t fire me immediately because there was the sexual-harassment complaint, even though nobody filed it… He sent this bad report so the people in Chile would fire me,” Leguina said.

Columbia has yet to make a statement about the charges, for which Leguina is requesting unspecified monetary damages. He says he has evidence to back his claims, and is working with Grindr to retrieve a copy of the texts Al-Awqati sent him.

And while he still wants to pursue medicine, the experience has turned Leguina into something of an workplace activist: “You cannot let these [things] happen anymore,” he told The Washington Blade. I know I’m not the first person, but I hope I can be the last.”

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  • hephaestion

    This Al-Awqati dude is slime. Columbia needs to fire him immediately and bring Leguina back.

  • hf2hvit

    “(Leguina refutes these allegations, pointing to an award her won on March 19.)”

    Do you outsource your editing to some fourth world place…like URANUS?

  • tdx3fan

    @hephaestion: Two sides to every story. I can say; however, that if I’m extremely pissed off at an employer that “made sexual advances to me” and HR is doing “nothing” about it, I’m not going to take that no for an answer and keep fighting till something is done.

    What I’m not going to do is “lose sleep over it” and not bother to show up to work while still taking a $2000 (MacBook) gift from the guy that I am offended by. Doing so makes no rational sense.

  • MidahoX

    @tdx3fan: I agree that what he did was not a good decision. However, you should know that he is not an American. Putting himself into a lawsuit doesn’t do him any good. His visa still expires on the same day. He won’t get his years back. He came here not file a lawsuit.
    If the American employers can protect foreign workers, everything would have turned out differently. The HR didn’t do anything to help him, maybe there was someone behind pulling the trigger. That’s why he accepted deal. He knew that he had to let everything go, get back with his work and hoping that everything would be okay. He has no one to depend on. He is all alone.
    “not going to lose sleep over it”. Trust me. You don’t know how it feels to come here to work and knowing that you can get fired anytime. You have to work like today was your last day. Getting fired is not so bad, but getting send home is. It ruined your journey, your time coming here, and mostly your goals.

  • Dakotahgeo

    This is MO for Asian and Eastern closet cases. If they are rebuffed, they take revenge out on their vicims. Remove this wacky, quacky Al-Awqati immediately. (Besides that, Al-Awqati lost the battle with the “ugly stick”.).

  • dropshot118

    ugh..that professor is gross and old. Was he in that movie about dogs “best in show”?

  • Rockery

    That is horrible. I hope the student wins something. and EWWWWWW the teacher looks like Jerry Seinfeld but an uglier version

  • FStratford

    Ugly but powerful professor. The student was obviously set up by the prof apologizing and the HR prob told them to document everything from that moment on. I say sue sue and sue Columbia and that HR lady

  • Eric Auerbach

    Someone should introduce Al-Awqati to Jamie Kuntz. They look like they’d hit it off.

  • Dakotahgeo

    @Eric Auerbach: You are as disgusting as Al-wacko-Awqati! Stick to the serious commenting on this discussion blog!

  • jmmartin

    I stood in a grocery line today a couple of heads behind a young man in his late teens or early 20s, dorky looking but cute, with dark hair and glasses. It reminded me of the story in “Citizen Kane” where Everett Sloane, as Mr. Bernstein, recalls for the news reporter seeing a “girl” once and not passing a day on earth thence that he did not think of the girl. Who isn’t like Mr. Bernstein?

  • kayakriver

    You guys are gonna say I’m being racist but some older middle-eastern guys are slimy like that. They advance on you like jackals on a prey.

  • jwrappaport

    @Eric Auerbach: Lollerskates.


    I deserved top fuck him in the ASS!!.


    @Dakotahgeo: DAKOTAHGEO: I am sure you are, so full of thit even your eye brown!.

  • n900mixalot


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