Judge Dismisses Discrimination Suit Against Kent State

Kent State University (photo courtesy of Kent State University)Kent State University (photo courtesy of Kent State University)

A judge in Ohio has dismissed all federal claims against Kent State University in a suit alleging discrimination for failing to hire an African-American woman who had applied dozens of times for a position.

Dr. Victoria Sheppard failed to provide sufficient evidence to support allegations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko ruled.

Sheppard said she unsuccessfully applied for jobs 79 times through Kent State’s online human resources website and later met with the White chair of the Sociology Department to discuss employment. During the meeting, the suit alleged, the chair allegedly made “racially and sexually inappropriate comments and unwelcome sexual gestures,” including use of profanity and “inappropriately” touched her feet.

Before she sued, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found no probable cause to pursue her claims.

In his decision, Boyko said remarks that the chair purportedly made during his single informational meeting with Sheppard were insufficient to infer any racially discriminatory intent.

He also held that the chair’s alleged “vague comments” and touching of Sheppard’s feet weren’t serious enough to create a hostile work environment.

The decision allows Sheppard to pursue state law claims, including sex discrimination and emotional distress, in state court.

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Nova Southeastern University didn’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or Rehabilitation Act by dismissing a medical student who had a major depressive disorder from its College of Osteopathic Medicine, according to a federal judge in Miami.

The ruling rejected claims of intentional discrimination and failure to accommodate the former student, who was identified only by the initials J.A.M. and enrolled in the program in 2010.

During his second semester, the student experienced a recurrence of his disorder that led to a week-long drinking binge and hospitalization for psychiatric stabilization, the decision said.

When he returned to campus, he signed a Student Assistance Program agreement requiring abstinence from alcohol as a condition of returning to classes. The following year, however, he had a similar recurrence of the disorder, admitted consuming alcohol, failed his courses and was hospitalized again.

The university allowed him to re-enroll but he suffered two relapses, was re-hospitalized for alcohol-related psychiatric stabilization and underwent a treatment program, the decision said.

The medical college ultimately dismissed him for violating the student assistance agreement by drinking alcohol.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore found no factual grounds for J.A.M.’s suit.

J.A.M. couldn’t show that Nova Southeastern intended to discriminate, had dismissed him solely because of a disability or had “disciplined a disabled person under suspect circumstances, let alone a history of discriminatory decisions,” Moore said.

To the contrary, the judge said, the university presented nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, namely J.A.M.’s acknowledged breach of the student assistance agreement.

J.A.M.’s inability to meet the program’s requirements with or without a reasonable accommodation “renders him unqualified under the law,” Moore said. He also said the university doesn’t have to forgive the student’s past misconduct, even if that misconduct was tied to the underlying disorder.

“J.A.M. essentially asks the school to excuse his misconduct. Federal law, however, makes no such demand,” Moore said.

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Wayne State University didn’t discriminate based on religion when it dropped an Orthodox Jewish student from a graduate program, a federal judge in Detroit has ruled.

The university had fully accommodated Deborah Goldman’s requests for time off during religious holidays and for Sabbath observance, U.S. District Judge John O’Meara said.

And O’Meara held that the university could justifiably dismiss Goldman from its master’s program in occupational therapy based on her poor performance and unprofessional behavior at a mandatory field placement.

According to the decision, Wayne State granted all of Goldman’s requested absences for Jewish holidays and a family wedding and let her leave early on Fridays so she could be home before sunset. To compensate for the missed time, she was allowed to extend her fieldwork placement.

In fall 2012, Goldman received “negative feedback” from a supervisor at the nursing and rehabilitation facility where she was placed. The criticisms included her documentation of patient evaluations, improper evaluation techniques and “inability to engage patients.” A meeting with her supervisors “became heated,” the decision said. Goldman “became emotional” and her supervisor “felt that working with her to establish a remediation program would be impossible.”

The facility terminated her from the field placement, which automatically terminated her from the Wayne State program. When her internal appeals failed, she sued for civil rights violations, retaliation and related claims.

In dismissing the case, O’Meara said there was no disagreement that Goldman was able to practice her religion and to receive all the time off that she’d requested.

She also failed to assert that the university treated her differently from similarly situated students, he said.

In addition, O’Meara said there was no proof that Wayne State departed from its “academic norms” and that it had legitimate reasons to dismiss her, namely “shortcomings in performance and behavioral issues which she admitted to in her appeal letters.”