Monday, September 23, 2013
Michael Argenyi, a deaf medical student, won a federal trial this month when the jury found that Creighton University failed to provide special equipment and interpreters for his education. Although the jury found that Creighton discriminated against him and violated federal disability laws by failing to make accommodations for his hearing impairment, it awarded no damages. Argenyi sued Creighton under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after the medical school failed to provide equipment and accommodations such as “cued speech” interpreters to help him lip-read when speakers use sounds that look the same. While Argenyi attended Seattle University as an undergraduate student, the university provided Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART), a system which transcribes spoken words into text on a computer screen and and a cued speech interpreter. Argenyi graduated from Seattle University with a 3.87 GPA. Upon entering Creighton’s School of Medicine in August 2009, he asked for similar accommodations. Creighton provided some assistance, but not the specific accommodations that Argenyi requested.
Argenyi sued Creighton in September 2009, alleging that the school denied him aids and services necessary to ensure “an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the School of Medicine.” He continued medical school however, borrowing more than $100,000 in his first two years to pay for the assistance that he had requested from the school. But then the medical school argued that the use of an interpreter could violate doctor-patient confidentiality and thus refused to allow him to have an interpreter to interact with clinical patients. After settlement talks with the medical school failed, Argenyi took a leave of absence after his second year pending the resolution of his claims. He initially lost in federal district court, but on appeal (and with the support of the Department of Justice) the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sent it back for trial. Disability rights advocates are hailing the federal jury verdict as a victory for meaningful communication access to professional education under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. Argenyi’s lawyers plan to pursue reimbursement for Mr. Argenyi’s loans that he took out for equipment and interpreters. Argenyi is represented by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the law firm of Stein & Vargas and Disability Rights Nebraska.