Med School Student Can’t Pursue Disability Clam

     (CN) – A West Virginia medical school student failed to prove the university she attended discriminated against her when she was asked to leave due to issues arising from her lack of professionalism, a federal judge ruled.
     In an opinion announced Wednesday, May 6, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers said plaintiff Stephanie Zimmeck failed to show her that teachers and advisors considered her to have a disability, failed to request a reasonable accommodation, and failed to show she could have meet the school’s standards for professionalism even if she had gotten one.
     Zimmeck enrolled at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia is the fall of 2009.
     As per its longstanding policy, the school evaluates its students level of professionalism each semester during their first and second year; Zimmeck’s conflict with the school began with her very first evaluation.
     As recounted by Judge Chambers, Zimmeck was told she failed to meet the university’s standard for professionalism, noting that she was consistently late and disruptive. Further, Chambers said, an addendum to the evaluation said Zimmeck did not follow up to discuss the evaluation with faculty, or ways in which she could improve.
     A second evaluation was very much in line with the first, Chambers said.
     Finally, in February 2010, she met with Marie Veitia, a psychology professor and dean of student affairs, to whom she explained she was “feeling sad and isolated and was not coping well with living in Huntington.”
     Veitia later testified that she asked Zimmeck whether she ever considered receiving treatment for depression. Veitia said the student resisted the suggestion, telling the dean she didn’t think she was depressed.
     Zimmeck did better on her next two evaluations, but in June 2011, she was again told she wasn’t meeting the university’s standard for professionalism, and also received a “critical incident report” for not sitting for a required exam.
     During the ensuing summer, Zimmeck saw her personal physician, told the doctor she was depressed, and was prescribed Lexapro. She then returned for her third year at School of Medicine, where she was told she would remain under scrutiny.
     Despite the warning, Chambers wrote, Zimmeck’s behavior grew worse.
     “Faculty and staff stated that Plaintiff was tardy, dressed inappropriately, made unsettling comments to patients, failed to follow directions, interrupted her teachers, and ran through the hallways,” he wrote.
     After several more incidents, the school’s Academic & Professionalism Standards Committee decided Zimmeck should be dismissed. Zimmeck appealed, stating that her behavior was the result of a side effect of Lexapro. She further stated that after she tapered off the drug, she could see that she had made mistakes and was embarrassed by her bizarre behavior, Chambers said.
     The Committee rejected Zimmeck’s appeal, and she sued the university, claiming it retaliated against her as an individual with a disability and that it failed to offer her a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed her to complete her studies.
     Chambers tossed Zimmeck’s claims on April 28, 2015, and released his opinion explaining his reasoning a week later.
     Broadly speaking, Chambers said Zimmeck simply hadn’t produced sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue.
     “First, Plaintiff has not presented any evidence that she engaged in conduct protect by the ADA or Rehabilitation Act before she was terminated from MUSOM,” the judge wrote.
     Although she claimed she was dismissed in retaliation for raising with MUSON the issue of her depression, Chambers said “it appears that Plaintiff did not even inform MUSOM of her alleged disabilities until after the initial decision to terminated her.”
     “Moreover,” the judge continued, “Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate any causal connection between her alleged protected activity and the school’s decision to expel her. She argues that because she suffered from depression and the side effects of Lexapro, MUSON did not want to deal with her as a student. Plaintiff has not put forth any evidence to support this argument.”
     Later in the opinion, Chambers said Zimmeck has not shown that with reasonable accommodation, she could have met MUSOM’s professionalism standards.”
     “As MUSOM’s professionalism standards are an essential eligibility requirement of the program, changing or lessening those standards for Plaintiff would not be a reasonable accommodation.”
     To prevail on her claims, Chambers said Zimmeck would have had to demonstrate that she timely notified the school of her disability and proposed a specific, reasonable accommodation that would allow her to meet MUSOM’s existing professionalism requirements.”

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