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Student’s Failure To Accommodate Claim Against University Fails
In August 2013, Daniel Goldberg began taking classes at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University (College). In general, the College grades on a scale of 0 to 100, with a score of 80 indicating competency and a score of 75 to 79 indicating marginal competency. Students who receive a score below 75 in a course receive one opportunity to remediate their score and pass the course.
During his first year, Goldberg had to remediate his score in one course and completed the year with an overall score of 82.34. At the beginning of his second year, Goldberg experienced a head injury that required medical treatment. Goldberg told College employees about the injuries but did not request any accommodations.
Goldberg failed one course during his second year and finished the year with a score of 79.46. Shortly after the end of his second year, Goldberg asked for accommodation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The College granted him 50% extra time on examinations and a quiet room in which to take those examinations, which would take effect when Goldberg returned to the College for his third year.
Before his third year began, Goldberg submitted a doctor’s note requesting 100% extra time on examinations. The College declined this request because there had not been a chance to determine whether the 50% accommodation was effective and because they did not believe the National Board of Medical Examiners would provide Goldberg 100% extra time on his licensure examinations.
During his third year, after mid-term examinations, Goldberg requested an additional accommodation of a white noise machine for all future exams due to tinnitus, which the College granted. Goldberg subsequently failed two courses and had to appear before the Medical Student Evaluation and Promotion Committee (MSEPC). The MSEPC issued a memorandum finding that Goldberg’s “continued lack of insight about the importance of medical knowledge pose[d] a threat to patients,” that he was “not able to successfully complete medical school,” and that “he be given the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw or, otherwise, that he be involuntarily withdrawn.”
Due to Goldberg’s disability, he was permitted to continue at the College and was ultimately given a new accommodation of 100% extra time on examinations. With all accommodations in place, Goldberg failed his OB/GYN clerkship and failed two attempts to take the family medicine examination. The MPSEC recommended for a third time that Goldberg receive the choice between voluntary and involuntary withdrawal.
The Dean of the Medical College involuntarily withdrew Goldberg, finding that “[b]ased upon Mr. Goldberg’s historical poor academic performance (specifically excluding his failure in the OB/GYN clerkship) and his failing grade in the Family Medicine clerkship, his academic performance is unacceptable.” Goldberg appealed the Dean’s decision to the University’s Provost, who upheld the involuntary withdrawal.
Thereafter, Goldberg filed a lawsuit, alleging that the University violated the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance from discriminating against an otherwise qualified individual with a disability solely because of her or his disability. Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities from denying the benefits of their services, programs, or activities to a qualified individual with a disability because of his or her disability. To state a claim under the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA, Goldberg had to demonstrate that he (1) is disabled, (2) is a qualified individual, and (3) was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability. The University filed a motion for summary judgment, essentially arguing that Goldberg was unable to make this showing and they were entitled to a judgment in their favor without the need for a trial.
The District Court found in favor of the University and Goldberg appealed. The Appeals Court held that Goldberg was not a qualified individual because his academic performance was not acceptable even after he received his requested accommodations (e.g., 50% extra time with a quiet room, 50% extra time with a quiet room and a sound machine, and then 100% extra time with a quiet room and a sound machine). Further, the Appeals Court noted that Goldberg “did not meet his burden to identify a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to meet the standards of the medical school program despite his disability.” Goldberg was unable to meet the College’s academic standards and continued to fail courses despite having the accommodations he requested in place.
Goldberg v. Florida International University (11th Cir., Dec. 29, 2020, No. 20-11462) 2020 WL 7703136.
While this case arose under Title II of the ADA, which applies to public entities, Title III of the ADA applies to places of public accommodation, including nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools, and prohibits discrimination against certain individuals, such as current students and student applicants. based on disability with regard to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations. With regard to reasonable accommodations, the ADA and its regulations envision an interactive process with participation by the school, 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 other possible accommodations exist.