Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No ADA Claim For Dishonesty Dismissal From Medical School

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont, rejecting a claim that the University discriminated against a medical student based on a disability. A faculty member had discovered that the fouth-year student had falsified an evaluation for a pediatric-surgery rotation. At a hearing, the student admitted the conduct and claimed it was an isolated incident. He was not dismissed but was subject to less serious sanctions.

The school later discovered two other falsified evaluations as well as a falsely altered diploma (to support a magna cum laude claim). At a second hearing, the student claimed the misconduct was caused by Tourette's Syndrome and a related obsessive-complusive behavior disorder. Expert testimony supported the contention. Nonetheless, he was dismissed from the University. He then sought treatment and petitioned for reinstatement, which was denied. He completed his studies elsewhere and sued the University for equitable relief, either the award of his degree or reinstatement.

The court here "recognize[d] that we are dealing with an academic institution about the ethical and academic standards applicable to its students." The university acted "for multiple purposes:to enforce academic standards, to protect patients being treated by students, to maintain trust between students and others, and to produce students who can go on to residencies and a profession practicing medecine." He never sought accomodation but only raised the disability issue to avoid sanction.

The court held:

   For multiple reasons, we conclude on this record that the undisputed facts show that plaintiff lacks a prima facie case, and the superior court properly dismissed the action. First, plaintiff cannot show that he met the essential qualifications for graduating from medical school, even with reasonable accommodations.  As the Dean emphasized, “[d]eception, dishonesty and perpetration of fraud are absolutely unacceptable, irrespective of cause.”  The College has the academic discretion to make honesty and personal accountability essential qualifications for its students.  See Falcone, 388 F.3d at 659.  As a matter of law, it would fundamentally alter the nature of the College if those actions by students were tolerated by the College and the student was allowed to enter the profession.  See Wynne v. Tufts Univ. Sch. of Med., 976 F.2d 791, 793 (1st Cir. 1992) (where university reached the “rationally justifiable conclusion that the available alternatives would result either in lowering academic standards or requiring substantial program alteration, the court could rule as a matter of law that the institution had met its duty”); Doe v. Attorney Discipline Bd., 78 F.3d 584, 1996 WL 78312, at *3 (6th Cir. 1996) (unpublished table decision) (in bar discipline case under Title II of the ADA, “ADA does not require that we hold Doe to a lesser standard of conduct than any other attorney, it merely precludes Doe from being denied an opportunity to practice law because of his disability.  Since Doe’s disability . . . has precluded him from satisfying the most basic ethical requirements of his profession, he is not qualified under the provisions of the ADA.”).

Further:

In essence, plaintiff seeks to wipe the slate clean and to obtain a second chance—in this case a third chance—to meet the academic and ethical requirements of the College.  He has requested as a remedy that he be given a medical degree or that he be reinstated to the fourth year medical class.  In essence, his record of misconduct would be eliminated, as if his disability was a full and complete defense to that misconduct.  The College would be required to ignore that the misconduct, however egregious, ever occurred.

      Decisions from other jurisdictions are clear, however, that the purpose of the ADA is not to give a second or third chance to one who commits misconduct.

(Mike Frisch)

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