The trial of a former student’s lawsuit against a college she said provided her with subpar nursing training – and then expelled her when she complained – opened Friday in federal court in Portland.

Courtney Mason sued InterCoast Career Institute, which once operated campuses in South Portland and Kittery, claiming that the school provided poor facilities and a deficient learning environment, then kicked her out of school for complaining. She said she paid $35,000 to attend the school for a little more than a year to get the training and education to become a licensed practical nurse, but was expelled a few months before graduation.

ICC lawyers, however, said Mason was a poor student with attendance problems who couldn’t get along with minority students who also attended the school.

California-based ICC had programs in South Portland and Kittery, primarily for nursing students and others seeking careers in health fields. The school failed to gain accreditation from a national body after being ordered to do so by the Maine Board of Nursing and shut down in 2015.

Another lawsuit against the college, a class action filed on behalf of hundreds of other ICC students, alleges that ICC operated a “sham” college designed to take students’ money without providing a quality education. That suit is still pending in federal court in Maine.

ICC presented itself as “a gold-star nursing program,” Mason’s attorney, Guy Loranger, told a seven-man, one-woman jury in U.S. District Court as the trial opened Friday. But instead, it provided large, poorly run classes in “essentially a refurbished warehouse” in Kittery that was poorly equipped and staffed. Clinical experience, he said, was in a nursing home where the students served residents meals and helped them bathe, but didn’t provide the kind of experience that licensed nurse practitioners require.

Mason, who lives in New Hampshire, toured ICC’s South Portland campus when she considered applying to the school in 2012.

She was impressed, Loranger said, but when she was accepted to the school, she was assigned to the Kittery campus, which she said didn’t live up to ICC’s promises. Her lawsuit alleges breach of contract.

Mason’s classes were large – nearly 50 students, Loranger said – and study halls were noisy and chaotic, dominated by what he said was a “clique” of students from Brockton, Massachusetts.

“It was almost like a local high school,” he said.

When Mason emailed her complaints to the Maine Board of Nursing, which helps oversee training programs in the state, Loranger said she was called into a meeting with ICC administrators, who demanded to see the information she sent to the board. Mason refused and was expelled in December 2012, Loranger said.

Neil Evans, the attorney for ICC, painted a different picture.

He said Mason had a history of absenteeism and trouble getting along with the minority students at the school who lived in Massachusetts and, like her, drove to Maine for classes. He said Mason complained when the other students, primarily Haitians, did not speak English. He said Mason was counseled to follow the school’s policies on behavior and its anti-discrimination rules and once was thrown out of class for disparaging the school with an obscenity.

It finally culminated in “a very ugly scene” in a study hall in late November 2012, Evans said, when Mason and other students got into an argument over noise.

Mason was expelled because the argument was the final straw on top of attendance and other disciplinary matters, he said.

The other students were suspended for several days, Evans said, but they didn’t have the disciplinary record that he claimed Mason had compiled.

Evans also said he will show jurors that Mason sent the letter to the nursing board in late December, after she had been expelled, not several days before, as she claims. He said the complaint wasn’t a factor in her expulsion.

Mason is seeking unspecified damages. U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. told the lawyers Friday that his reading of Maine law is that punitive damages can’t be sought in breach-of-contract suits, but would hear arguments if they disagree, before he instructs the jury.

The trial is expected to continue until late next week.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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