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OCR Letter: University of Illinois at Chicago

Chancellor Sylvia Manning
Office of the Chancellor
University of Illinois at Chicago
601 South Morgan Street (MC 102)
Chicago. Illinois 60607-7128

Re: 05-04-2033

Dear Dr. Manning:

The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has completed its review of the subject complaint filed against the University of Illinois at Chicago (University). The Complainant alleged discrimination on the basis of disability. Specifically, the Complainant alleged that the University's College of Medicine at Rockford failed to provide him with academic adjustments or modifications for a disability. Asperger's disorder and denied his appeals for reinstatement into the program.

As a public entity that is a recipient of Federal financial assistance from the Department, the District is subject to the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. 29 U.S.C.§ 794 and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. Part 104 (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.42 U.S.C § 12132 and its implementing regulation at 28 C.F.R. Pan 35 (ADA), which prohibit discrimination based on disability. Accordingly, OCR has jurisdiction over the complaint.

The Complainant initially filed a complaint with on OCR July 28 2003, which OCR closed on August 7, 2003, because the Complainant explained that he had filed the same allegations with the University. At that time OCR informed the Complainant that OCR procedures require that when the same complaint allegations have been filed through a recipient's internal grievance process and OCR anticipates that the recipient will provide a comparable resolution process, OCR does not proceed with complaint resolution activities. OCR informed the Complainant that he may refile with OCR within 60 days of the completion of the internal grievance process, including any appeals. OCR also informed the Complainant that its consideration of such a complaint would not be a de novo review of the case, but a review to determine if the recipient provided a comparable process, including whether the appropriate legal standards were applied. If the recipient's process meets OCR's standards, OCR would take no further action.

The Complainant filed the present complaint with OCR on January 16. 2004 after he completed the University's internal grievance process. Therefore, OCR's review of this matter was limited to determining whether the University provided the Complainant a comparable complaint resolution process and whether the University applied appropriate legal standards to his allegations.

OCR staff reviewed documentation provided by the Complainant and the University and listened to tapes of the October 28, 2003 grievance hearing. OCR has determined that the University provided the Complainant with a comparable process and applied the appropriate legal standards. OCR will take no further action with respect to this complaint based upon the facts presented below.

Background

The University offers medical education programs at sites in Chicago, Peoria, Rockford and Urbana-Champaign. The Chicago campus functions as the main campus as it houses the dean and an administrative offices. College of Medicine programs at each campus are subject to the University's policies and procedures.

The Complainant entered the College of Medicine in the fall of 1999 and completed his first year at the school's Urbana campus. The Complainant moved to the school's Rockford campus and completed his second year. During his third year, the Complainant failed a core clerkship in family practice and also failed two attempts to remediate the clerkship. On April 30, 2003, the Rockford Student Affairs Promotions Awards und Scholarship Committee (Rockford Committee) notified the Complainant in a letter that it was recommending the Complainant's dismissal from the College of Medicine to the College Committee on Student Promotions (CCSP). The Rockford Committee advised the Complainant of his appeal rights before the CCSP and advised him of his right to a faculty advocate and legal counsel at the hearing.

The Complainant appealed the Rockford Committee's decision 10 the CCSP. The Complainant's appeal asked that he be reinstated in the College of Medicine and that he be granted another opportunity to satisfy requirements. The appeal asserted that the Complainant had Asperger's disorder prior to and during the developments prompting his dismissal and that the Medical School at Rockford did not reasonably accommodate the Complainant's condition. The appeal included a neuropsychological evaluation completed on April 18, 2003 that concluded that the Complainant had Asperger's disorder. The appeal also set forth a proposed plan for providing accommodations to the Complainant argued that (he Complainant could succeed as a physician despite his condition, and argued that the College of Medicine should make an additional effort to accommodate the Complainant's disability.

The CCSP heard the Complainant's appeal on June 20. 2003. The Complainant, his attorney and a faculty advisor from the College of Medicine at Rockford's University Psychiatric Services wore present. The minutes of the hearing reflect that the Complainant requested accommodations for his disability at the hearing and presented additional information to the CCSP. The faculty advisor spoke on the Complainant's behalf during the hearing. At the end of the one hour forty minute meeting, the CCSP voted to deny the appeal. The CCSP notified the Complainant of its decision in a June 23, 2003 letter that acknowledged that the Complainant had based his appea1 on new information stating that he had Asperger's disorder and required particular accommodations that should enable him to succeed in the curriculum. The letter informed the Complainant that the CCSP had determined, based on a careful review and discussion of the Complainant's appeal including supporting documentation, that the Complainant tacked critical skills necessary to become a competent physician and the clinical and communication skills needed to diagnose and treat patients and to consult with other health professionals. The CCSP letter stated that medical knowledge and analytical skills could not compensate for poor communication, interpersonal and general skills. The letter advised that the Complainant could grieve the CCSP action by filing a formal grievance with the Associate Dean within 45 days.

On July 25, 2003, the Complainant filed a formal grievance with the Associate Dean appealing the CCSP decision. The grievance asserted that the Complainant had made several requests for accommodations and remediation for his Asperger's disorder over a period of a year, but had received little or no help. It averred that on at least nine specific occasions the Complainant had requested accommodations, discussed Asperger's disorder, or mentioned his disorder while he was a student to various University staff. The grievance requested that the Complainant be allowed to continue in the program at the Chicago site in a program where he could receive daily feedback and other accommodations for his Aspcrger's disorder.

On September 24, 2003, the Associate Dean responded by letter to the Complainant's grievance. She concluded that there was no merit to the Complainant's appeal and denied his request for remedies. She based her response on a review of school records and materials submitted by the Comp1ainant and selected interviews. Her determination specifically addressed the Complainant's claim that he had requested accommodations for his Asperger's disability and extra feedback and remediation, but received little or no such help. She stated that the College of Medicine has a defined process for requesting accommodations under the ADA and noted that the Complainant did not submit a request for accommodations under that process. She also pointed out that the Complainant's record shows that the College of Medicine provided the Complainant additional remediation outside of the ADA accommodations process.

On October 7, 2003 the Complainant appealed the Associate Dean's grievance response to the Vice Dean of the College of Medicine. On October 10, 2003 the Vice Dean notified the Complainant that a hearing would be scheduled at which he had a right to be represented by counsel. On October 28 2003, the Vice Dean conducted the hearing. The Complainant was present at the hearing as well as his father who was identified as the Complainant’s representative. Testimony was taken from witnesses presented by the Complainant as well as from representatives of the school. Four witnesses testified via a conference phone and two appeared in person. Additionally, the Complainant and his father provided statements at the hearing and the Complainant questioned witnesses on matters relevant to the proceedings. The Vice Dean again addressed the issue of whether the Complainant sought accommodations for his Asperger's disorder. The Complainant stated that he mentioned his Asperger's syndrome to individuals while at Rockford. The ADA Officer stated that the Complainant never mentioned his disability to her until after he was dismissed from the College of Medicine. The ADA Officer also stated that the medical professionals at the University's Chicago campus administered a neuropsychological evaluation to the Complainant in July 2002 because of academic difficulties the Complainant was having. The examiners found that the Complainant did not have it disability.

On November 4, 2003, the Vice Dean of the College of Medicine advised the Complainant of his determination by letter. The Vice Dean upheld CCSP's decision to dismiss the Complainant from the College of Medicine, He determined, based upon review of materials submitted by the Complainant and testimony from the hearing. that while there was a question of whether or not the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome is appropriate, the Complainant was informed during his tenure at the College of Medicine that there was an ADA Committee to help students with possible disabilities from which the Complainant never sought help. He also determined that the College of Medicine had made several attempts to help the Complainant with his academic problems and to provide him with accommodations even though he did not formally request a review by the ADA Committee.

On November 17, 2003 the Complainant submitted a final appeal to the Chancellor. This appeal again alleged that the University failed to provide the Complainant academic adjustments for Asperger's disorder. The Chancellor requested the Associate Chancellor to review the Complainant's appeal. The Associate Chancellor reviewed the Complainant's complete file maintained by the College of Medicine and documents submitted by the Complainant. On December 5, 2003, the Associate Chancellor submitted a written report to the Chancellor concluding that there was an insufficient factual basis to conclude that the College of Medicine discriminated against the Complainant on the basis of disability by failing to provide an accommodation. The Associate Chancellor concluded that the Complainant never provided the College with a diagnosis of Asperger's disorder and the Complainant never made a request for a disability accommodation even though the College has a process for making such a request and the Complainant knew OT should have known of the process. The Associate Chancellor noted that despite lengthy documentation of efforts to remediate the Complainant's performance, no professional working with the Complainant ever characterized the Complainant as having a diagnosed disorder. She remarked that only after the initial decision to recommend dismissal did the College see language alluding to a disability.

On December 18, 2003 the Chancellor sent a written response to the Complainant. The response explained that the Complainant's appeal was reviewed for the limited purpose of determining whether there was a sufficient basis to conclude that the College of Medicine discriminated against him on the basis of disability. It stated that after a complete review of his file, it was clear that the Rockford Committee was not aware of the Complainant’s disability when it made its recommendation to the dismiss the Complainant. It also stated that no record existed showing that the Complainant utilized the University's process for requesting accommodations for a disability. It noted that the Complainant was never characterized as a student with a diagnosed disorder. It noted that the Complainant's appeal to CCSP did not claim he requested and was denied a disability accommodation, but, instead, that the appeal was based upon new information and extenuating circumstances. Based on these findings, the Chancellor denied the Complainant's appeal.

Determination

OCR's review of the evidence adduced shows that the Complainant attempted to resolve the allegation in this complaint through the University's internal appeal and grievance process. Specifically, he raised the issue of being discriminated against on the basis of disability due to the denial of accommodations, modifications, and/or academic adjustments in four different levels of the appeal and grievance procedures from his initia1 appeal to the CCSP through his final grievance appeal to the Chancellor.

As noted above, OCR's case processing procedures provide that OCR should not proceed with the complaint resolution process if essentially the same complaint allegations were addressed through an institution's internal grievance process and OCR determines that the institution provided the complainant with a comparable resolution process. OCR has determined that the allegations that the Complainant raised in the University's internal appeal and grievance process were substantially the same as the allegations of the complaint he filed with OCR. The University's process included substantial review of the University's records and materials submitted by the Complainant as well as witness testimony. As noted above, the Complainant was also given the opportunity to appeal determinations by the University, which he did. OCR also has determined that the University applied the appropriate legal standards.

Based on the above, OCR determines that the University provided the Complainant with a resolution process comparable to OCR's with regard to the allegation that the Complainant raises in this complaint. Therefore, OCR will not pursue complaint resolution with respect to this allegation and is closing this complaint effective the date of this letter.

I wish to express my appreciation for the courtesy and cooperation that you and your staff extended to OCR staff regarding this case. If you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact Ms. Catherine Martin, Equal Opportunity Specialist at (312) 886-8374 or me at (312) 886-1800.

Ann Cook-Graver
Acting Compliance Director

cc: Ms. Patricia Gill
Associate Chance1lor

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