GILBERT, Ariz -- Accusations of academic dishonesty prompted more than a dozen Valley nursing students to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Maricopa Community Colleges. The Chandler-Gilbert campus says the group cheated. The students not only deny it but say they have proof they didn't.
When Doug Pollock, Susan Shepherd and Amanda Mueller enrolled at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College, they all had aspirations of becoming a nurse.
But two days after their second semester ended at the Chandler-Gilbert campus, Pollock, Shepherd and Mueller, along with more than a dozen other students, learned they didn't pass.
"They posted that I had been sanctioned with a failing grade and that I had been accused of academic dishonesty," Pollock said.
As Shepherd remembers, "It was devastating. It felt like a sucker punch."
Mueller was shocked and confused.
"I didn't know what I did so immediately I was calling the instructors, emailing them, asking what was going on," she said.
It wasn't until September the students say they got an explanation. College administrators had reason to believe they cheated on an open-book online homework assignment.
Pollock remembers they told him, "We had completed it too quickly. They said one to nine minutes and that we had finished it with a 100 percent accuracy and in their professional opinion the only way that could happen is if we had had the answers to that homework assignment."
Mueller was stunned. "I know I did it for hours that night."
So the students contacted the company that designed the online homework assignment, Elsevier. They said Elsevier told them the timing function periodically resets.
As Pollock explains, "The list went on and on even to if you use any browser other than Mozilla Firefox, it doesn't communicate with their server correctly and so the timing is not accurate."
But when 3TV contacted Elsevier, they told us its server clock didn't change in this case and the students' claims are simply "a distraction."
MCC eventually told the students it had reason to believe the group shared answers with each other -- a claim the students deny.
"They changed their story to, 'Well, we still see a pattern of cheating," Pollock said.
"I don't believe they thought of us as human beings with lives, with so much on the line," Shepherd said.
A few weeks ago, the students say MCC notified them the F grade will stand as will the academic dishonesty sanction.
"By putting academic dishonesty on our record, now we don't have an opportunity to retake that class," Pollock said.
"I can no longer afford to start from the beginning as they've suggested we do," Shepherd said.
"I'm actually done with nursing," Mueller said. "This has completely ruined nursing for me."
So the students have filed a lawsuit, seeking $1.5 million in damages for each of them. Pollock justifies the amount, "The lost jobs, the lost scholarships that we have to pay back. My professional integrity has been destroyed, my reputation has been destroyed."
"I had to change my major, taking out thousands of dollars in loans to go," Mueller said. "I'm a single mom. I have to do something."
MCC declined our request for an interview but did issue the following statement: "We don't believe the claim has merit and the district will vigorously defend the lawsuit."