Reasonable accommodations under ADA and 14th Amendment

Dean v. University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, 804 F.3d 178 (2nd Cir. 2015)

Medical school failed to meet “reasonable accommodations” standards of ADA regarding exams for student with mental illness, but due process afforded to the same student in regard to dismissal from school for inadequate performance met constitutional standards

Background: Maxiam Dean began to experience increased symptoms of depression after failing Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. He met with an internist who recommended pharmacological treatment and provided him with an “excuse slip” recommending a leave of absence due to his situational depression. Dean presented the slip to his medical school, and was informed that it did not provide sufficient information to support an extended leave. The defendants offered a 10 week leave in response to Dean’s request for 3 months and informed him that he would not be extended any additional accommodations, and that he must sit for his Step 1 by May 21, 2007. After failing to pass (or sit for) his third attempt at Step 1, Maxiam Dean was dismissed from the program. Dean brought suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The United States District Court for the Western District of New York granted summary judgment to the defendants and dismissed Dean’s complaint. Dean then appealed.

Holdings: The Fifth Circuit held that the district court had erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims because the defendants failed to show that the requested accommodation was unreasonable and to provide a “plainly reasonable” alternative. The Fifth Circuit found the record “devoid of evidence” regarding defendants’ consideration of whether Dean’s proposed accommodation would impose undue financial or administrative hardship on the M.D. program. Thus the lack of evidence regarding “the basis for denying Dean’s requested modification to the exam schedule preclude[d] any conclusion on summary judgment as to the unreasonableness of that accommodation.” Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment only if “the undisputed record reveals that the plaintiff was accorded a plainly reasonable accommodation”, but a reasonable juror could have found that the “abbreviated study period encompassed within Dean’s leave” would not have been sufficient to prepare him to sit the exam.

The Court held that Dean’s procedural due process rights had not been violated, though, because he “received notice of potential termination…and a careful and deliberate decision.”

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4