A History of a Failure to Accommodate

Brock Tillman
Dec 16, 2018 · 10 min read

For two-years, officials at Howard University have steadfastly refused to accommodate a medical student’s disability.

In 2013, the student — referred to here as “John Doe” — submitted official letters from his doctor — a Johns Hopkins physician — and a John Hopkins organ clinic attesting to his condition. In addition, he shared his full medical records, medication list, and answered a range of questions, all with the purpose of seeking individualized need-based accommodations for his organ.

Without cause, at no point was he accommodated for his condition.

Howard University failed to make the available testing accommodations where needed to ensure that Mr. Doe demonstrated his aptitude and achievement, rather than his disability on the standardized exams. Furthermore, Howard University failed to uphold its basic administrative duties as well — failing to register the student for required classes on time and denying him a copy of the course materials in a timely manner.

This is a plain violation of the university’s obligation to provide open and equal access to education for all students, regardless of their health conditions. In the landmark case, Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Law School Admission Council Inc, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) was charged with prevalent and systemic deficiencies in how it processed requests by persons with disabilities who were seeking testing accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). LSAC had plainly failed to make available testing accommodations to ensure that test takers with disabilities gained equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and acumen.

Much like the LSAC, Howard University College of Medicine failed to make available testing individualized need-based accommodations where needed for Mr. Doe. Similar to the experience of the defendants in the LASAC case, Mr. Doe and other students have submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals for accommodations; yet Howard University College of Medicine has continued to routinely deny these testing accommodation requests.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that all individuals with physical and mental disabilities have the opportunity to fairly compete for and pursue academic opportunities. The law plainly requires testing entities such as Howard to offer exams in an individualized, need-based manner. When individualized need-based accommodations are provided, test-takers are empowered to demonstrate their true aptitude. Title II clearly stipulates that “no qualified person with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by such entity.”

Along with failing to provide individualized need-based accommodations, Howard University also engaged in a sustained pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory treatment towards Mr. Doe, who was not provided with full access to academic support and benefits from policies and procedures to which he was entitled. The following is a non-exhaustive summary of instances in which the University either overtly retaliated against Mr. Doe or denied him support or policy benefits to which he had a right:

· Mr. Doe was required to sit for the National Board of Medical Examiners’ Medicine Examination a full ten days before his clerkship term ended;
· Mr. Doe was required to restart the third-year curriculum having 2 rotations within a 14-month period.

· On the morning of Mr. Doe’s Neurology shelf examination, he was not informed that the exam time had changed from 2 pm to 11:30 am.
· In April of 2015, Mr. Doe was not properly registered for a clerkship, resulting in his being omitted from the roster and not receiving necessary course materials, including the syllabus, class schedule, and clerkship handbook. Despite multiple requests, no Howard University representative ever provided Mr. Doe with this material.

· In April of 2015, the faculty and administration refused to provide Mr. Doe with course materials despite numerous requests.
· Mr. Doe was omitted from the class roster during the Medicine rotation and counted absent on such days.
· In May of 2015, residents and faculty informed Mr. Doe that Dr. Poddar, the clerkship director, had been asking them to write letters of criticism about him. Mr. Doe then contacted Dr. Poddar directly, inquiring if there were any concerns or issues. However, Dr. Poddar refused to answer;
· Despite having already completed and passed the pediatrics clerkship according to Dr. Wright, the Chair of Pediatrics, Mr. Doe was ordered by Drs. Nikki Stewart and Swati Jain to complete an additional week of nursery rotation.
· Dr. Jain also refused to accept Mr. Doe’s excused absence for a doctor’s appointment which had been approved by Dean Bland.
· Mr. Doe was required to spend an extra week at Children’s National Medical Center.

Mr. Doe’s pediatrics clerkship did not afford him the opportunity to participate in the child psychology part of the pediatrics rotation.
· After Mr. Doe submitted two formal complaints against Dr. Jain regarding her failure to accommodate his condition and the disparate treatment he faced, Dr. Jain retaliated against him by changing him performance in nursery rotation from pass to fail, in spite of him initial success;
· Dr. Kalburgi always required another person to be present when she met with Mr. Doe– a requirement she did not have with other students.

· The University repeatedly failed to provide Mr. Doe with mentorship, guidance, and timely feedback throughout the entire time period at issue even after Mr. Doe shared his concerns with Howard President, Dr. Wayne Frederick. Despite LCME standards requiring the University to provide him with intervention and assistance, no efforts to reach out and assist him in remediating problems as they arose were made.
· After failing the internal medicine clerkship because he failed the internal medicine examination which was given before the completion of the clerkship, Mr. Doe met with the University’s Committee on Student Promotion and Graduation, wherein he was told that the University had decided to dismiss him. The dismissal process, and his effort to appeal the same, were replete with due process violations and other acts of bias, retaliation, and abuse of process.
· These abuses included substantial misrepresentations regarding his attendance and performance at rotations and courses. For example, in Mr. Doe’s meeting with the University’s Committee on Student Promotion and Graduation, there were 5 members and not the necessary quorum. According to the case of Pride v Howard University, a quorum consists of four faculty members and four students.23
· Mr. Doe was denied access to certain of his course records despite him making a Family Education Rights and Privacy Act request, thereby limiting his ability to provide further proof to Dean Mighty that faculty and administration had academically mobbed him with collusion and lack of objectivity at play.

· In order to enforce third year to be repeated by Mr. Doe, Howard University Officials changed the name and course numbers of his third-year courses taken to different courses in violation of U.S. Department of Education policies.

·Mr. Doe was denied support and facilitation of a transfer to another medical school by the Howard College of Medicine administration. This suggests malicious intent to do harm to Mr. Doe by denying him the opportunity to complete his education. Howard College of Medicine Officials mobbed Mr. Doe of his academic opportunity.

A History of Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

According to Mesumbe v. Howard University (D.C. 2010), the College of Medicine allowed a student to take the Internal Medicine shelf examination three times, in violation of the university policies; these policies clearly require a student who fails a shelf exam twice to repeat the clerkship for that subject. In the College of Medicine another student failed the Pediatrics and Psychiatry shelf examinations, but was promoted to his fourth year, in violation of the University Policies.

After Mesumbe was diagnosed with a disability, he received accommodations and the times he took exams unaccommodated were not counted against him. Further, he was allowed to take one exam four times. In the case of Mr. Doe, the two third years when he was not properly accommodated counted against him.

According to Bain v. Howard University, “other students who failed two clerkships who… were allowed to repeat only the clerkships they failed rather than an entire academic year.” This clearly contradicts the policies of Howard College of Medicine. Mr. Bain argued that these students received more advantageous treatment because Howard had a more favorable disposition towards them. He also states that Howard, “manipulated him answers before submitt[ing] them to the NBME for scoring to ensure that I would fail the tests.”

While this accusation seems extreme, in Howard’s response to Mr. Bain’s affidavit, they do not deny manipulating his answers. Howard’s statement replied that it “receives examinations from the NBME . . ., administers the examinations, returns the examinations and student answer-sheets to NBME . . ., and receives numerical scores from the NBME after grading.”

What was the rational basis and the motivation for these academic decisions? While Mr. Bain does not state whether he had a disability, Bain v. Howard University does show that there is a history of discriminatory treatment in the College of Medicine in which certain students receive arbitrary and capricious grading. It also correlates to the experience of Mr. Doe and others in facing disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Here in Bain v. Howard University , a student committed suicide after student led protests against the academic standards of the College of Medicine.

This marked a period of profound discord and betrayal between faculty and students based on the subsequent comments made by students. A spate of other activities soon take place, further enflaming tensions — these included the tragedy of a student committing suicide, a student-led protest in the College of Medicine, and the events took place in a hostile retaliatory academic environment.[1]

This environment suggests that there is a rich history of challenges relating to fairness and human rights. The fact that a student committed suicide after leading a protest suggests that the student was not heard. It suggests that she was not accommodated and that there was deliberate indifference to her mental health.

Pattern throughout the University

In the complaint Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry, filed on September 28, 2018, in DC Superior Court, the Plaintiffs allege that some of the same or similar accusations against Howard University. This complaint — along with many others — strongly support the notion that there is a systemic pattern of disregard for those who are disabled. There is a pattern of retaliation, violating students’ rights, and failing to accommodate students with disabilities in the Howard University System. In this complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Howard officials’ actions purposefully violated regulatory rules concerning students. In the case of Mr. Doe, Howard purposefully violated the ADA regarding his disability accommodations and subsequently committed bias related acts of retaliation and violated his civil and student rights.

In Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry, the plaintiffs make allegations and describes instances where Howard University officials engaged in behaviors which “ends their professional career.” In his complaint, because of disability discrimination and retaliation, Howard University officials subsequently performed the acts of failure to accommodate Mr. Doe and dismissed him from the College of Medicine, both of which effectively ended Mr. Doe’s career.

In Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry, we see unmistakable evidence that Howard officials disregarded the safety and well-being of students, even engaging in psychological abuse. In the experiences of Mr. Doe, Howard College of Medicine officials disregarded his safety and well-being by encouraging him to not go to his doctors’ appointments and ignoring the accommodation requests made.

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In Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry, the plaintiffs state that a Howard official “played the aggrieved students when they were injured despite the objections of the aggrieved students as well as the warning of his own staff. If he perceived that the students were even slightly resisting his dangerous demands to unreasonable risk severe injury, he would resort to outright verbal and emotional abuse, as well as public shaming as a method of manipulation. In the College of Medicine, Howard Officials employed a barrage of tactics designed to inflict maximum verbal and emotional abuse, including public shaming to manipulate and intentionally inflect emotional distress and duress at times when Mr. Doe requested to be accommodated.

The plaintiffs in Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry allege that when they were physically disabled, a Howard official and the university at large failed to accommodate the needs and refused to let them recover. Further, the plaintiffs allege that as Howard University students, they experienced extreme forms of retaliation that placed them at serious risk to injury as students of the University. This pattern of behavior is sadly no single isolated incident, as should be abundantly clear by now. Mr. Doe’s experiences were littered with events in which he encountered extreme forms of retaliation that caused him to be at risk to severe injury. Further, the extreme acts committed by Howard officials injured his standing in the academic community and in his profession, causing him to become very ill.

As with the plaintiffs in Madison and Tease v. Howard University and Nickelberry, Howard refused to let Mr. Doe recover by discouraging him from taking his medicine and visiting his doctor. Like these plaintiffs, Mr. Doe also encountered several occasions in which he did not receive course materials in a timely manner or accessible format until after the academic term had already begun.

With events like these raise concerns about the University’s intent to do right by students with disabilities. At this point, Howard University has refused to right the wrongs that have been done to Mr. Doe, Mr. Tease, Mr. Madison, Jane Does one through six, and other former Howard College of Medicine students who have begun to disclose their experiences. Instead, it has taken students with valid claims through legal processes in order to avoid allowing them equal access to the educational opportunities the sought from the University.

In Mannuella v. Dartmouth College, the plaintiff’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, stated that it is unusual for a student to sue an institution that does not provide them with accommodations because such lawsuits typically require students to pay expensive attorneys’ fees. Accordingly, institutions like Howard University have failed to truly grapple with the inherent inequities and systemic injustices that clearly pervade the current university administration. The time has come to shine a light on the voices of those who have too rarely been heard — the disabled students simply seeking a fair shot to make the most of their talents and abilities.

Show your support here: https://www.change.org/p/howard-university-students-civil-rights-at-howard-university

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