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Monday, December 12, 2011

Medical School ADA Case

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that George Washington University was within its rights in 2003 when its medical school kicked out Carolyn Singh, having determined that she was not meeting academic standards. Singh was diagnosed as having a learning disability shortly before she was dismissed, and she claimed that GW violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not accepting her diagnosis and approving adjustments she requested.

The decision could be important not only for Singh and the medical school, but for others in higher education who are debating how to determine whether students have learning disabilities and, if so, what kinds of accommodations are appropriate for such students.

Several college associations filed a brief in the case arguing that colleges and courts need to have leeway to evaluate the validity of claims that students have learning disabilities. The brief argued that many such claims may not be accurate, and that colleges risk being unfair to other students if they accede to all of the requests for accommodations. Lawyers for Singh, however, argued that the college associations' brief was pushing for too much leeway for higher education, in ways that could limit the rights of students with disabilities.

Another issue in the Singh case was the applicability of revisions to the ADA made subsequent to her dismissal. The appeals court ruled that applying those provisions retroactively would be unfair to the university.

From the ruling:
To establish a disability under the ADA, a plaintiff must establish not only that she suffers from an impairment but also that the impairment causes a significant limitation on a major life activity. Singh presented evidence that she suffered from a mental impairment and experienced a limitation on learning that was evident while she was in medical school; whether or not she did, multiple factors existed to explain the cause of that limitation. Accordingly, because the district court did not clearly err in finding that Singh failed to establish that her asserted impairment caused her asserted learning limitation, we affirm the judgment of the district court.