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Grand Rapids – Two doctoral students are suing a Michigan State University professor who they say used his authority as an academic adviser to force them to work long hours at his engineering company for little or no pay.

The lawsuit filed last month alleges that Parviz Soroushian exploited doctoral students Talal Salem and Salina Ramli at his Lansing lab, Metna Co., the Lansing State Journal reported. The lawsuit says university officials have known about the allegations against Soroushian since 2011.

Soroushian denied the claims in the lawsuit. He’s been on paid leave since July, when the university launched an investigation into his conduct.

University spokeswoman Heather Young declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Talal Salem started working as a research assistant at Metna after joining the university’s doctoral program in 2017. Soroushian told him he would pay $300 a month for a few hours’ work, but later required Salem to work full time, up to seven days a week. Salem was paid just a few hundred dollars more per month for the work, according to the lawsuit.

Salem alleges that Soroushian wouldn’t let him take time off to study for exams and made him do heavy manual labor, such as milling, mixing and casting concrete. Salem needed surgery after suffering multiple shoulder dislocations from the labor.

Salina Ramli was on a Malaysian-government funded scholarship at the university and agreed to work at Metna on the days she didn’t have class. But Ramli claims in the lawsuit that Soroushian later forbade her from taking off her class days and would yell at her when the research didn’t produce the results he desired.

Both Ramli and Salem’s doctoral progress relied on a favorable evaluation from Soroushian, according to the court documents.

The lawsuit argues that Michigan State officials knew of the allegations because in 2011 the school prohibited Soroushian from enriching himself at the expense of university students. They also agreed to a conflict of interest management plan over his Okemos-based company, Technova, and later updated the plan to include Metna.

University spokeswoman Heather Young declined to comment.

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