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Singh v. George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

February 18, 2009

CAROLYN SINGH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AND HEALTH SCIENCES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This case comes to the Court on remand from the Court of Appeals. See Singh v. George Washington Univ. Sch. of Med. & Health Scis., 508 F.3d 1097 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 4, 2007). This revised opinion does not modify the original judgment in the case, see Singh v. George Washington Univ. Sch. of Med. & Health Scis., 439 F. Supp. 2d 8 (D.D.C. 2006) (Lamberth, J.); rather, in accordance with the Circuit's instructions, it corrects and clarifies the reasoning that led to the original conclusion.

This case originates from a dispute between a former medical student, plaintiff Carolyn Singh, and the medical school that dismissed her from its program, defendant the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences ("GW"). Plaintiff claims that GW dismissed her because of her disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a) (2000) ("ADA"). Plaintiff initially named as additional defendants two administrators of the medical school, but this Court dismissed the complaint as to those two defendants in Singh v. George Wash. Univ., et al., 368 F. Supp. 2d 58, 72-73 (D.D.C. 2005) (Lamberth, J.). In so doing, this Court disposed of the parties' pretrial cross-motions [21, 25] for summary judgment by granting and denying each in part. Id. at 73.

The parties appeared before this Court for a non-jury trial on November 21-23, 2005. Each party presented several witnesses and a number of exhibits. At the Court's direction, each party submitted Proposed Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law [62, 63] on April 5, 2006.

Based on all of the evidence presented, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law and will, consistent with them, enter judgment in favor of defendant and against plaintiff.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Ms. Singh's educational history reveals many academic achievements, along with some instances of poor performance.

(a) Ms. Singh was born in Guyana, South America. (Trial Tr. 11/21/05 at 13.) She learned to read at age three. (Trial Tr. 11/22/05 at 187-88.) At a young age, she became a highly-ranked competitive chess player. (Trial Tr. 11/21/05 at 15.)

(b) After moving to New York, her scores on a placement test earned her a spot in the tenth grade at James Madison High School. (Trial. Tr. 11/21/05 at 16-17.) She graduated from high school at age sixteen. (Id. at 17.)

(c) Throughout her educational career, Ms. Singh remembers struggling with classes that involved reading (id. at 13-16) and says that she "never liked reading" (id. at 13). She describes how she found ways to avoid the reading required in English courses, such as relying on material learned from class discussions, skimming the assigned books (id. at 16), or avoiding the course altogether (Trial Tr. 11/21/05 at 18).

(d) In addition to her perceived difficulties with reading, Ms. Singh reports that she typically performed more poorly on multiple-choice timed tests than her grades would indicate. (Id. at 19, 25, 27, 35-38.) As a result, she also attempted to avoid courses that involved multiple-choice tests. (Id. at 31-34.)

2. Ms. Singh was a student at GW medical school from the fall of 2000 until the spring of 2003. She was a student in the decelerated program, in which the first year of medical school courses are taken over two years. (Trial. Tr. 11/23/05 at 322-23.) Upon completion of the first year coursework, decelerated program students enter the regular Doctor of Medicine program for the remaining three years. (Id. at 341.)

3. To attain and remain in academic good standing, decelerated students must not only achieve a passing grade in their courses, but their grades must also be within one standard deviation from the class mean in courses of three or more credits. (Id. at 323.)

4. Students who receive an inadequate grade in a course are at risk of academic dismissal. (Id. at 323.) The dean may require the student to appear before the Medical Student Evaluation Committee ("MSEC"). (Id. at 329.) The MSEC then makes a recommendation to the dean as to whether the student should be dismissed at that time. (Trial Tr. 11/23/05 at 329.) Once a student has been placed at risk of academic dismissal, he or she remains in that posture, regardless of whether or how the MSEC took action. (Id. at 336.)

5. Ms. Singh struggled academically at the school. (Id. at 398.) In particular, she performed poorly on some of the multiple-choice timed exams used to assess students' progress in many courses.

(a) Plaintiff failed one of the two courses she took in her first semester, Fall 2000. (Trial Tr. 11/21/05 at 36.) The failing grade, in Cells & Tissues, was based solely on her performance on a multiple-choice exam. In the spring 2001 semester, plaintiff passed both courses in which she was enrolled, but her grade in one of them fell below the standard deviation requirement. (Id. at 91.) Although falling below the standard deviation placed Ms. Singh at risk of academic dismissal, the dean did not require her to appear before the MSEC. (Trial Tr. 11/23/05 at 333-34.) She was, however, required to retake, over the summer, the course she failed in the fall 2000 semester. (Id. at 334.)

(b) In the fall 2001 semester, Ms. Singh enrolled in two courses. (Trial Tr. 11/21/05 at 92.) She failed one of them and fell below the standard deviation in the other. (Id.) Because each event placed her at risk of academic dismissal, she was required to appear before the MSEC. (Trial Tr. 11/23/05 at 336.) Ms. Singh told the MSEC that she ...


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