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Are Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodations Appropriate When a Student Has Failed Academically?

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit answered this complicated question in Profita v. Regents of Univ. of Colo., No. 17-1127 (10th Cir. 2017).

After twice failing clinical rotations at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (“Medical School”), Taylor Christian Profita (“Profita”) was dismissed from the University’s M.D. program in January 2013. Profita blamed his failure on disabling physical and mental conditions. He was treated, and then wanted to come back to the M.D. program with credit for the work he had performed prior to the failure. The Defendants denied him admission and said he would have to apply as a new student. Profita sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claiming reasonable accommodations for his disability would be readmission to the program. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice. Profita appeals.

Profita argues that the district court erred because he was not dismissed for misconduct; he was a student, not an employee; and the accommodation he sought was not retrospective. Profita completed the first few years of the M.D. program, despite his disabilities. He failed two rotations, and was given the chance to redo one rotation. He failed and was not offered the opportunity to remediate the failure of the second rotation. The Dean of the Medical School sent Profita a letter dismissing him from the M.D. program for unsatisfactory academic performance. Profita had medical care for his psychological conditions, and nearly nine months after his dismissal he wrote to the Defendants, saying he was fine and wanted to return to the program at the point where he had begun failing.

The ADA prohibits the exclusion of qualified individuals with disabilities from participation in, or from enjoying the benefits of, services, programs, or activities, or from subjecting such individuals to discrimination. To assert a claim, a Plaintiff must show they are a qualified individual with a disability, that he was excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of some public entity’s services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and it was because of their disability.

The reasonable-accommodation requirement is not to exempt disabled employees from the consequences of past poor performance at work, but to enable them through reasonable accommodation to perform the essential functions of their job.

Profita argues that the ADA was enacted with a remedial purpose, to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. He contends that a no leniency rule violates the congressional mandate reflected in these statutes. But such broad policy arguments cannot override statutory language or precedents.

The disability statutes do not require that a disabled person properly terminated from a job or program be given a greater opportunity for reinstatement than that given to a terminated person who is not disabled. In this case all terminated medical students must apply for readmission; Profita was not treated differently. Therefore, the lower court’s dismissal is affirmed.

The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado

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