Two doctoral students have filed a lawsuit against a Michigan State professor for allegedly making them work long hours at his engineering company for little to no pay. According to the lawsuit, Parviz Soroushian took advantage of doctoral students Talal Salem and Salina Ramli at his Lansing lab, Metna Co.
Salem took a job as research assistant at Metna Co. after joining the university’s doctoral program in 2017. Soroushian originally told him that he would pay him $300 a month for just a few hours of work, but later required him to work full-time. He got paid just a few hundred dollars more per month for the work.
Salem claims that Soroushian required him to do heavy manual labor and wouldn’t allow him to take time off work to study for exams. He even had to have surgery for the multiple shoulder dislocations he suffered on the job.
Ramli agreed to work at Metna Co. on the days she didn’t have class, but says Soroushian didn’t let her take off her class days and would scold her when the research didn’t produce the results he wanted.
Because Ramli’s scholarship only covered tuition and a modest stipend, she began working at a bakery in the very early hours of the morning to make ends meet.
Despite how poorly the two students were treated, they continued to work for Soroushian because their doctoral progress depended on a good evaluation from him. If they didn’t do what he said, he had the power to damage their careers.
The lawsuit also alleges that Michigan State officials have known about this issue for several years, but failed to monitor the students working for Soroushian.
When the two students went to department chair, Venkatesh Kodur to report the issue, he told Soroushian that the students complained about him.
“Despite receiving multiple complaints and having general familiarity with Soroushian’s historical mistreatment of his advisees, Kodur did nothing to investigate or intervene,” the lawsuit said.
Kodur also allegedly told investigators that it was “not his job to go to Dr. Soroushian’s company to check on the students.”
Soroushian has been on paid leave from the university since July and has denied all the claims against him.