“I was a student and employee at Life University, and I was being harassed by one of the professors,” she said. “I felt I lost my job after I didn’t want to have relations.”
Belser said she went to Abbatinozzi’s superiors with her complaint of sexual harassment and civil rights violations.
“They said it never happened,” she said.
Belser is black, and Abbatinozzi is white.
The fallout from the alleged incidents has been severe, both to her peace of mind and to her career, Belser said.
“I had to intern in the same department he was working in. You can imagine how uncomfortable I felt,” she said. “I was forced to exit the university. I can’t even find a job.”
The school, through its spokesman Craig Dekshenieks, declined to comment on the case.
According to the school website, Abbatinozzi is a chiropractor who has taught there for 14 years.
He earned a diploma and fellowship in neurology and is certified in motion palpation analysis, network spinal analysis and exercise science.
“He is interested in health and human potential, nutrition, neurology, music and sports,” according to the website. “The processes of learning and self-development are especially meaningful to him. He has a strong belief in the power of the chiropractic adjustment and a ‘less is more’ approach when specific care is given.”
Belser’s attorney, Robert Marx of Marx & Marx, filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the northern district of Georgia, Atlanta division, on April 16.
He said the school did not follow proper procedure for investigating accusations of sexual harassment.
“A statement was given to Provost Brian McCauley. They never contacted the witness (Marie Casimir) because she was no longer employed there. They never contrived to find out if Dr. Abbatinozzi was ‘rubbing up against’ my client,” Marx said.
Through its attorney, Jonathan R. Poole of Strickland Brockington Lewis, the school filed responses Oct. 5.
“Ms. Belser did provide a name similar to Ms. Casimir to the Title IX investigator, Karla Ruppenicker,” he wrote. “No one with that name was either enrolled at Life or working for Life at that time. Consequently, Ms. Ruppenicker did not interview Ms. Casimir.”
Poole said last week the firm could not comment further.
“Life University feels it has very strong defenses to the case, but it is not university policy to talk about student matters publicly,” he said.
Belser, a 32-year-old mother of a preschooler, said in her lawsuit she wants a jury trial.
She said she dreads one aspect of testifying.
“They are going to make me look like an academic failure,” she said.
Belser also seeks a financial award for her $200,000 legal fees, mental anguish and punitive damages.
“It’s not about money. It’s about making sure no one else goes through that, because people take their lives over this. I even thought about it,” she said. “If you don’t tell the story, he’ll do this to someone else.”