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Pharmacy Student Claims University Failed To Reasonably Accommodate His Multiple Disabilities
In 2017, Mathew Horodner applied and was accepted to Midwestern University’s College of Pharmacy (Midwestern) in Glendale. Horodner contacted Midwestern’s Office of Student Services before the start of his first semester and requested accommodations for his disabilities, including extra time to complete exams and quizzes and an isolated room in which to work without distraction. Midwestern granted Horodner’s requests.
Horodner earned As and Bs his first semester but later failed Pharmaceutics II. Horodner contended that during the lab component of Pharmaceutics II, the instructors often rushed through the material and Horodner had difficulty seeing and hearing the instructors. Thereafter, Horodner began experiencing conditions that made it difficult for him to concentrate, including migraines. Horodner shared this with Midwestern but did not request additional accommodations.
Thereafter, Horodner’s iPad, which he used for his coursework, was stolen. Horodner reported the theft and his “emotional turmoil” to Midwestern and requested an extension of “a few days” to take one of his final exams. Midwestern denied the request.
Horodner failed the final exam and requested an extension to take the comprehensive course re-examination. Midwestern denied the request. Horodner requested a medical withdrawal under Midwestern’s Medical Leave policy. Midwestern also denied this request. Thereafter, Horodner withdrew from Midwestern.
Horodner filed a claim against Midwestern alleging failure to accommodate his disabilities and discrimination against him in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. Midwestern filed a motion to dismiss, which the court assessed.
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability with regard to goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation. The ADA generally requires places of public accommodation to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when necessary for individuals with disabilities, unless making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered by the public accommodation. Private colleges and universities are public accommodations under the ADA.
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from excluding, denying benefits to, or discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability solely because of her or his disability. With regard to “a college, university, or other postsecondary institution,” the Rehabilitation Act defines a qualified individual with a disability as one who “meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the recipient’s education program or activity.”
To establish a violation of the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, Horodner had to allege (1) he is disabled; (2) he is qualified to remain a student at Midwestern; (3) he was dismissed solely because of his disability; and (4) for the Rehabilitation Act claim, that Midwestern receives federal financial assistance, or for the ADA claim, that Midwestern is a public entity. Midwestern conceded that Horodner alleged facts sufficient to meet elements (1) and (4), and only disputed that Horodner provided sufficient facts to meet elements (2) and (3).
The court first rejected Midwestern’s argument that Horodner’s requested accommodations were unrelated to his disabilities, which Horodner explained presented continued challenges with listening comprehension and auditory processing. The court further disagreed with Midwestern’s contention that it had already sufficiently accommodated Horodner’s disabilities because he was performing well in his first semester courses. The court explained that what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is not constant and may change in different situations, even situations with relatively slight differences. The court continued that when Horodner transitioned from traditional classwork to lab-based coursework, it was the kind of change in circumstances that may merit additional or different accommodations.
The court next addressed Midwestern’s argument that Horodner’s requested additional accommodations were unreasonable because they would fundamentally alter the nature of its program, by giving Hororner a significant unfair advantage over his peers, substantially altering the approved curriculum, and sacrificing the integrity of the program. The court determined that it could not reach a conclusion as to this argument on a motion to dismiss.
The court then addressed Midwestern’s contention that Horodner failed to show that he is a “qualified individual” under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The court explained that the facts demonstrated that Horodner performed well during his first semester, earning As and Bs. Horodner’s diminished performance when he began lab coursework indicated that additional accommodations may have been necessary and not that Horodner was necessarily not a “qualified individual.” The court determined that the dismissal of Horodner’s claim was not appropriate on this ground.
Ultimately, the court determined that Horodner had provided enough facts to withstand Midwestern’s motion to dismiss, and his claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act would proceed.
Horodner v. Midwestern University (D. Ariz., Dec. 23, 2020, No. CV-20-01800-PHX-JAT) 2020 WL 7643198.
With regard to reasonable accommodations, the ADA and its regulations envision an interactive process with participation by the school, college, or university, the student, and, if the student is a minor, the student’s parents. The interactive process involves the school working with a disabled student and his or her parents or medical providers to identify reasonable accommodations that provide equitable opportunity to participate in the school’s educational programs. The interactive process is ongoing, and if an implemented accommodation is not effective, the parties should revisit the process and explore whether additional or different reasonable accommodations may exist.