KEENE — A Massachusetts man who recently graduated from Keene State College is suing the school because he was disciplined for a violation of the school’s COVID-19 protocols.
Matthew Cote, of Haverhill, Mass., is seeking $100,000 in damages to have the record of his probation at the school removed as well as a letter of apology from the college sent to his family.
Keene State students were required to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests to attend in-person classes. In his lawsuit filed in Cheshire County Superior Court, Cote writes that due to the stress of the academic year and other factors, he forgot to get tested one week.
Once a test was taken the individuals received wristbands that allowed them to access on-campus facilities.
Cote was due to get tested on Oct. 9, but missed the test and remained on campus, according to the lawsuit. Cote claims he did not remember about the missed test until he was refused entry to the dining hall for lack of an updated wristband.
Under college rules, Cote was supposed to contact the Office of Student Life so he could be escorted to an on-campus quarantine dorm. Cote’s lawsuit states that the Office of Student Life was closed, so he quarantined the best he could in his dorm that weekend until the following Monday.
During his quarantine, Cote was disciplined for violating the school’s COVID testing rules. He was found to have violated the rules by staying in his dorm for the weekend, and placed on probation. Cote appealed the probation, getting two appeal hearings and each time the probation was affirmed, according to his lawsuit.
Donald Smith, the attorney representing the school, wrote in a motion to dismiss that Cote does not have a case. He broke the rules, was afforded a hearing and two appeals, and still got disciplined.
“On the face of the complaint, the plaintiff concedes that he: (i) failed to get a COVID-19 test in violation of College testing requirements; (ii) remained in his dorm room for a weekend, in further violation of College public health requirements (despite the plaintiff’s apparent view that the requirements were ambiguous); and (iii) the plaintiff received a hearing and appeals process before the temporary probation was imposed,” Smith wrote. “In his complaint, the plaintiff fails to state any legal causes of action.”
Cote, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, conceded Tuesday that his complaint is not as clear as it could be.
“I’m clarifying it right now,” Cote said.
Cote claims the school’s discipline has caused him harm, professionally and with his family.
“After being placed on college probation, the plaintiff has suffered from emotional distress after his reputation was destroyed in the eyes of his college community, his family, and other potential third parties,” Cote wrote.
“The emotional distress from the sanction itself alongside the stressful time-consuming process of appealing has impacted the plaintiff’s productivity during the semester. The plaintiff feels villainized (sic) despite correctly following a protocol to keep other people safe.”
Judge David Ruoff heard arguments Tuesday on the school’s motion to dismiss the case, and the lawsuit is pending his ruling.