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The Feb. 28 forum in Irvine Auditorium, “A Formidable Foe: Cancer in the 21st Century,” will feature former Vice President Joe Biden, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Lori Alf, a former cancer patient embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit. 

An upcoming Penn forum about cancer treatment that features former Vice President Joe Biden includes another panelist who is embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit.

Loretta “Lori” Alf, the defendant and former Penn Medicine patient and ambassador, will speak alongside Biden and Penn President Amy Gutmann at the Feb. 28 forum in Irvine Auditorium, “A Formidable Foe: Cancer in the 21st Century,” which is part of the David and Lyn Silfen University Forum series.

On Feb. 9, Gutmann sent an email to all University undergraduates inviting them to the forum.

Alf, who owns an ice rink in Florida, had allegedly made a series of racist remarks against a young Iraqi-American skater, Hyaat Aldahwi, that culminated in her banning the athlete in January 2013, according to court documents. The complaint was filed two years later by Aldahwi’s mother Angela on her daughter’s behalf.

The lawsuit, where Alf has been accused of inflicting emotional distress and discriminating against Aldahwi due to “ancestry/national origin/ethnicity discrimination,” was first reported by The Palm Beach Post.

Along with her husband Christopher, Alf is the owner of Palm Beach Ice Works, the ice rink in Florida where the younger Aldahwi had trained for nearly half a year before getting banned. In late December 2012, Alf discovered Aldahwi was Iraqi-American and that she wanted to eventually skate for an Iraqi national ice skating team, including, perhaps, in the Winter Olympics, according to court records.

The Aldahwis claim that Alf declared that no Iraqi would be allowed to skate at her rink. At a later incident in early January, Alf allegedly said “there won’t ever be an Iraqi skater at the Olympics — over my dead body,” according to the Aldahwis’ suit.

The suit also asserts that Alf referred to the family as “towel heads” and “Iraqi f**king c**ts” and that Aldahwi suffered from emotional disturbance due to the abuse.

Alf and her lawyers dispute these claims.

According to court documents, Alf’s attorneys said Aldahwi cannot claim national origin discrimination as she “has failed to allege that she is of a particular race or national origin” and that the supposed allegations do not meet the necessary level of “outrageous conduct” to warrant intentional emotional distress in the eyes of the law.

According to the suit, Alf worried about a conflict of interest that could arise by having an Iraqi dual citizen skating in her rink as she also serves as a board member for National Air Cargo Holdings, Inc., a defense contractor which frequently does business in Iraq. Her husband is also the founder and president of National Air Cargo.

Alf’s current attorney, Paul Ranis, told The Palm Beach Post that “we deny we ever said those things — we believe when the truth comes out, we will prevail on all the claims.” Ranis did not respond to The Daily Pennsylvanian’s request for comment.

“Ms. Alf is a patient at Penn Medicine who has benefited from an innovative cancer therapy developed here at Penn,” said Susan Phillips, a spokesperson for Penn Medicine. “Our only focus is maintaining her health.”

Alf first became associated with Penn Medicine in 2014. After six years of battling multiple myeloma, Alf’s blood cancer was characterized as refractory, meaning she was no longer responding to treatment. Unwilling to accept this diagnosis, she entered a clinical trial with the Perelman School of Medicine in 2014.

Directed by a team of researchers under medical professor Carl June, who is also speaking at the cancer forum, the clinical trial sought to defend her body from myeloma using immunotherapy.

The treatment consisted of transforming T cells in the blood with a specific protein, essentially transforming some of Alf’s own white blood cells to track and eliminate the cancerous cells in her body.

Within a few months Alf was cancer free. Since her recovery, she has become a spokesperson for immunotherapy treatment.

Alf will speak alongside other featured panelists including Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. The forum is currently sold out but will feature a live stream.

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