A nursing student is suing her Pennsylvania college, filing a lawsuit that claims the university broke federal law. The former nursing student failed to obtain her degree – twice. The student’s lawsuit now seeks damages of $75,000 – or at least another chance to obtain her nursing certificate.
Writes The Associated Press, via USA Today: “A nursing student who says anxiety and depression made it difficult for her to concentrate has sued a northeastern Pennsylvania university after twice failing a required course. Jennifer Burbella claims her Misericordia University professor didn’t do enough to help her pass her class.”
According to Burbella’s lawsuit, nursing professor Christina Tomkins was to provide Burbella with a “distraction-free environment and extra time on the final exam.” Burbella’s reasonable accommodation request also called for the professor to be available for telephone questions. Because she wasn’t, Burbella said she failed the class and failed to graduate – leading to even more mental stress, anxiety and depression.
After failing the exam once in 2010, she was allowed to retake the exam under special conditions – a result of her severe mental stress disability. Burbella says her anxiety and depression make it nearly impossible for her to concentrate over long periods of time, and that her professor agreed to be on standby, via phone, to assist her.
The lawsuit claims that professor Tomkins, university president Thomas J Botzman and chairwoman of the nursing department, Cynthia Mailloux, all knowingly violated the Federal Rehabilitation Act – a nondiscrimination law that protects qualified individuals from adverse impact and reprisal based on a disability.
“(Burbella) struggled throughout her studies at Misericordia University, but always continued to seek a bachelor’s degree in nursing and appeared to be moving toward that goal, albeit with some average, but primarily below average grades,” her attorney Harry P McGrath wrote in the suit.
After failing the first time, the lawsuit claims the school “coerced” her into taking the exam again, only four days later, causing Burbella “great trepidation.” The suit also says that another disabled student was treated far better after failing the exam during the first go.
After agreeing to the terms in Burbella’s reasonable accommodation request, Burbella again took the final. But the lawsuit says she repeatedly attempted to call her professor, who never answered, despite agreeing and knowing that she was to be available during the testing time.
“Professor Tomkins’ failure to be available to (Burbella) on numerous occasions during the examination created an even more stressful environment for the student, all of which can be verified by Megan Hurley, a counselor at Misericordia University, who witnessed (Burbella) attempting to make calls to Professor Tomkins on several occasions during the exam and breaking down and crying when Tomkins did not answer,” McGrath wrote.
Students polled by a local news station said that a fellow student who struggles with these types of mental and emotional disabilities perhaps should not be in the medical field.
“If you’re going into a medical program that if you need that certain kind of time, my opinion is maybe it’s not for you,” student Kevin Collins told WNEP. “I’m doing physical therapy here and I feel like I want to be the best and I want to know that I’m able to do what I need to do in the time frame to be done. That’s how I feel about it.”
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