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Yaldo v. Wayne State University

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 8, 2017

Firas (Jason) Yaldo, Plaintiff,
Wayne State University, et al., Defendants.




         I. Introduction

         Firas (Jason) Yaldo (“Plaintiff”) commenced the instant action against his former medical school, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and its staff (collectively “Defendants”) on September 25, 2015. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff initially requested a preliminary injunction ordering his reinstatement into medical school, Dkt. No. 3, which the Court denied on October 15, 2015. Dkt. No. 23.

         Presently before the Court are two motions for summary judgment. On January 8, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion To Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(B)(6) And/Or For Summary Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Dkt. No. 70.[1] On January 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Limited Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts VII and VIII of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint Pursuant To Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Dkt. No. 72. The Court held a hearing on the motions on June 5, 2017 and heard oral arguments from counsel. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [70] and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [72].

         II. Background

         A. Plaintiff's First Year of Medical School

         Plaintiff enrolled at Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2012, after completing undergraduate studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2009.[2] Dkt. No. 83-1, pp. 2-3 (Pg. ID 2352-53); Dkt. No. 83-26, pp. 11-12 (Pg. ID 2768-69). Conflicts between Plaintiff and the medical school arose within his first few weeks of attendance and continued throughout the duration of his studies.

         In July 2012, Plaintiff signed up to attend a three-day Summer Matriculation Program that required mandatory attendance for participants. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1652). Defendants report that Plaintiff had an unexcused absence from the program, id., but Plaintiff asserts he had permission to leave early to pick up his father from the airport. Dkt. No. 70-38, p. 4 (Pg. ID 1838).

         In early August 2012, Plaintiff's academic counselor emailed Plaintiff a warning after speaking with Plaintiff's mother on the phone, because his counselor believed that Plaintiff had shared his email and Blackboard information with his mother. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1653). Later that month, testing staff reported that Plaintiff engaged in suspicious behavior during a restroom break while taking his Gross Anatomy written exam. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 4 (Pg. ID 1654).

         On September 26, 2012, Plaintiff missed his Histology 2 exam. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 5 (Pg. ID 1655). Plaintiff's parents dropped off a doctor's note with Dr. Matthew Jackson, Assistant Dean of Basic Science Education. Id. Plaintiff's student counselor, Kathleen Connors, reminded Plaintiff via email to submit excused absence notes directly to her, as explained at the Summer Matriculation Program and Year 1 Orientation. Id. Two days later, on September 28, 2012, Plaintiff's Anatomy Professor reprimanded him for irregular test-taking behavior in his Gross Anatomy practical. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff was late to his make-up exam for Histology on October 3, 2012, which he states was because he was not allowed to bring his backpack into the exam room, unlike other students.[3] Id.; Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 42 (Pg. ID 2799). Later that month, on Sunday, October 21, 2013, another medical student reported to the Gross Anatomy Course Director that Plaintiff had brought his mother to look at the cadavers in the Gross Anatomy lab. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 8 (Pg. ID 1658). Plaintiff's mother claims that the security guard allowed her down to the anatomy lab without Plaintiff's help. Dkt. No. 83-25, p. 25 (Pg. ID 2734).

         1. Professionalism Committee Hearing

         In late fall 2012, the medical school began to view Plaintiff's number of excused absences as excessive. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 11 (Pg. ID 1661) (stating that Plaintiff submitted notes to excuse absences for eight exams in four months). In late October, Jackson informed Plaintiff that he was being referred to the Professionalism Committee. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 9 (Pg. ID 1659). On November 27, 2012, Plaintiff and Jackson reviewed the charges together and discussed the Professionalism Committee process. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 12 (Pg. ID 1662).

         On November 30, 2012, the Professionalism Committee reviewed nine charges against Plaintiff, including allegations of irregular test-taking, tardiness to exams, sharing private log-in information with his mother, disrespect to cadavers, and a high amount of excused absences from exams and required meetings. Dkt. No. 83-24, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2708). After the hearing, the Committee sent Plaintiff a letter on December 5, 2012, notifying him that he had failed to meet the medical school's community standards. Dkt. No. 70-6, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1666).

         2. Modification of Course Schedule

         In November 2012, Connors recommended that Plaintiff take a modified curriculum, wherein he would have two years to complete his Year 1 courses, taking half the courses and exams each year. Dkt. No. 83-5, p. 6 (Pg. ID 2433). Connors stated that she recommended this because Plaintiff was submitting notes for multiple illnesses, there had been a death in his family, and he was barely passing. Dkt. No. 83-5, pp. 6-7 (Pg. ID 2433-34). At that point, Plaintiff had scored below average on every exam. Dkt. No. 70-5, p. 13 (Pg. ID 1663).

         On November 15, 2012, Plaintiff emailed Jackson that he “would like to do the modified program.” Dkt. No. 70-19, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1775). Plaintiff later asserted that he was forced to modify; however, he also admits that he had a choice, but felt pressured to modify because he thought it would make the school happy prior to his professionalism hearing. Dkt. No. 83-26, pp. 38-39 (Pg. ID 2795-96).

         In late November 2012, Plaintiff submitted a letter to Connors from Dr. Mufid Al-Najjar, a psychiatrist. Dkt. No. 70-21, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1781). Al-Najjar stated that Plaintiff suffered from severe anxiety. Id. Al-Najjar further recommended that “special accommodation be provided to [Plaintiff] in the form of relaxed schedule and flexible timing for the required tests, ” and that Plaintiff's “testing schedule be revised to allow him time to adjust and attain his academic goals.” Id. Plaintiff was not reminded by the medical school that he needed to make an appointment with Student Disability Services (SDS) for accommodations. See Dkt. No. 83-5, p. 8 (Pg. ID 2435). Dr. Lisa MacLean, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, thought the switch to a modified curriculum already accommodated Plaintiff by reducing his classes and exams by half. Dkt. No. 83-3, pp. 8, 10 (Pg. ID 2369, 2371).

         B. Plaintiff's Second Year of Medical School

         By August 2013, Plaintiff had passed half of his first year courses and moved on to the second half of the modified curriculum. Dkt. No. 83-24, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2708). Earlier that summer, Plaintiff began to see a Psychiatric Social Worker, Jeffery DeVore, for anxiety and depression. Dkt. No. 70-46, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1886). By September 16, 2013, DeVore recommended that Plaintiff be admitted to partial hospital care because his symptoms had worsened. Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 16 (Pg. ID 2512). On February 6, 2014, Plaintiff had an appointment with DeVore in which he refused to see DeVore unless his mother was present. Dkt. No. 83-8, pp. 11-12 (Pg. ID 2507-08). This was Plaintiff's only appointment with DeVore in 2014. Id.

         DeVore wrote three letters to the medical school on Plaintiff's behalf in 2014. See Dkt. No. 83-2, pp. 3-5 (Pg. ID 2356-58). In Plaintiff's absence, his mother took a very active role in getting the letters and making suggestions about the letters' content. See Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 33 (Pg. ID 2529). DeVore's February 19, 2014 letter recommended that Plaintiff be given “special accommodations for a more flexible schedule for labs, exams, and other course requirements.” Dkt. No. 83-2, p. 3 (Pg. ID 2356). In another letter, dated April 14, 2014, DeVore “urge[d] the administration to seriously consider [Plaintiff's grade] appeal” of an exam where two exams appeared on the computer screen, causing Plaintiff to feel anxious and perform poorly on the exam. Dkt. No. 83-2, p. 4 (Pg. ID 2357). DeVore wrote that this poor grade had caused Plaintiff to experience setbacks in his health progress. Id. The letters were not submitted to SDS.

         C. Plaintiff's Third Year of Medical School

         By August 2014, Plaintiff had passed all his Year 1 classes after two years in the modified curriculum program, so he reentered the traditional Year 2 track with a full course load. Dkt. No. 83-24, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2708).

         On November 17, 2014, DeVore wrote a letter to the medical school recommending that Plaintiff “be provided with special accommodations in terms of alternate testing format and extended testing time.” Dkt. No. 83-2, p. 5 (Pg. ID 2358). Devore also recommended “a flexible testing schedule due to [Plaintiff's] lack of ability to focus on his preparation for the upcoming exams as a result of” testing anomalies that caused him to develop a fear of the computer exams. Id. After receiving this letter from DeVore, MacLean emailed Plaintiff on November 26, 2014 to remind him that he was required to obtain accommodations through SDS. Dkt. No. 70-22, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1783). MacLean offered Plaintiff a reduced-distraction testing room until he was able to secure accommodations properly through SDS. Id.

         Plaintiff and his mother went to the SDS on December 12, 2014. Dkt. No. 83-7, p. 5 (Pg. ID 2469). Because Plaintiff had not scheduled an appointment, SDS gave him informal accommodations (extended testing time and a distraction-reduced environment) until his intake appointment. Id. Plaintiff completed his intake appointment on January 12, 2015. Id. Plaintiff presented a note from DeVore and was issued formal accommodations that same day. Id.

         1. The Car Accident

         On December 5, 2014, Plaintiff was in a car accident with his mother. Dkt. No. 83-25, p. 20 (Pg. ID 2729). The car Plaintiff's mother was driving was damaged in a hit-and-run. Id. at 20-21. Plaintiff was with his mother as she filed a police report. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 55 (Pg. ID 2812).

         Four days later, on the morning of December 9, 2014, Plaintiff got into a car accident while driving a rental car. Id. Plaintiff emailed his professors, Dr. Christopher Geyer and Dr. Chih Chuang, that he “got into a serious car accident on [his] way to school” and that he would provide them with more information later on that day. Dkt. No. 70-7, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1670). After the accident, Plaintiff drove the rental car to the collision shop, because the damage was “somewhat minor.” Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 56 (Pg. ID 2813); Dkt. No. 83-40, p. 2 (Pg. ID 3093). Plaintiff states that he did not call the police because he had anxiety and did not know what to do after a car accident. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 62 (Pg. ID 2819).

         Chuang responded shortly after Plaintiff sent the email, checking if Plaintiff was okay and requesting a copy of the police report prior to rescheduling Plaintiff's required training from that morning. Dkt. No. 70-7, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1669). Plaintiff states that the owner of the collision shop gave him a short accident report form from his mother's accident, and altered this form to report the accident happened on December 9, rather than December 5. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 57 (Pg. ID 2814). Nine hours after Chuang's email, Plaintiff responded, stating “[p]lease find attached the police report and picture of my car following the accident, ” and attaching a scan of the altered accident report form and a photo of his mother's damaged car from the December 5th accident.[4] Dkt. No. 70-7, pp. 2-5 (Pg. ID 1669-72).

         Chuang requested that Plaintiff provide the full police report from the accident because the form Plaintiff submitted was incomplete. Dkt. No. 83-39, p. 5 (Pg. ID 3074). Chuang sought to double-check the information provided, so he passed on the accident report number to other staff, who forwarded it to the police department. Id. The police department informed the medical school that the report with that number did not match the information Plaintiff provided. Id. at 6. The police instructed Jackson to ask Plaintiff for the full police report. Dkt. No. 70-10, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1681).

         Jackson emailed Plaintiff requesting a full copy of the accident report on December 19, 2014. Dkt. No. 83-41, p. 2 (Pg. ID 3095). Jackson requested the documentation by January 7, 2015. Dkt. No. 70-10, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1681). Plaintiff responded that he was sick and studying for exams, so he could not provide the report. Dkt. No. 83-41, p. 2 (Pg. ID 3095). Plaintiff also stated that he told Jackson that he had already provided what he had, since his mother dealt with the insurance. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 58 (Pg. ID 2815).

         On January 12, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a digitally-altered police report to Jackson via email. Dkt. No. 70-10, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1681). Plaintiff had paid a friend cash to alter his mother's Michigan Traffic Crash Report to reflect the information he provided to the school on December 9th. Dkt. No. 83-26, pp. 59-60 (Pg. ID 2816-17). The alterations including changes to the date and time of the accident, name and driver's license information, and gender of pronouns in the narrative. Compare Dkt. No. 70-8 with Dkt. No. 70-9. Plaintiff testified that Jackson pressured him to provide a report, which elevated his anxiety, causing him to make the decision to submit the falsified report. Dkt. No. 70-44, p. 6 (Pg. ID 1874).

         When the medical school learned that Plaintiff submitted a falsified police report, Jackson submitted a Student Code of Conduct Report to the Dean of Students on main campus at Wayne State University. Dkt. No. 83-13, p. 19 (Pg. ID 2615). On February 6, 2015, Plaintiff was found responsible for “knowingly furnishing false information to the institution” and “failure to comply with the direction of any authorized institutional representative, acting in the performance of his/her duties.” Dkt. No. 70-11, pp. 2-3 (Pg ID 1684-85).

         2. Plaintiff's Final Semester at the Medical School

         Plaintiff completed the course exams for his Immunology/Microbiology course, which ended in September 10, 2014, on January 8, 2015. Dkt. No. 70-30, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1807). Plaintiff's final score was a 66.47%, below the pass rate set for the course. Id. Plaintiff later appealed his Immunology/Microbiology grade because he believed the professor miscalculated his score. Dkt. No. 83-24, p. 3 (Pg. ID 2709); Dkt. No. 83-23, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2706).

         On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff was placed on academic probation due to course failure. Dkt. No. 70-29, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1804). Several days later, he submitted doctors' notes granting him a combined thirteen days of excused absences in relation to a “life threatening car accident.” See Dkt. No. 70-34, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1823); Dkt. No. 70-17, pp. 7, 17 (Pg. ID 1729, 1739).

         On January 19, 2015, Plaintiff attended an appointment with DeVore, where he spoke about his lapse in judgment for providing the falsified police report. Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 22 (Pg. ID 2518). Plaintiff provided the school with an unsigned letter from DeVore the next day, stating that his anxiety and obsessions can cause reactions to be impulsive and based on fear, leading to poor decision making. Dkt. No. 70-13, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1695).

         On February 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Wayne State University Office of Equal Opportunity against Jackson. Dkt. No. 83-11, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2586). Plaintiff alleged that Jackson discriminated against him based on disability and national origin, because Jackson allowed multiple exams to pop up on Plaintiff's computer screen; demanded to meet with Plaintiff, causing him embarrassment in front of his classmates and lost study time; and denied Plaintiff's request to be called by a nickname instead of his birth name. Dkt. No. 83-11, pp. 4-5 (Pg. ID 2588-89).

         In March 2015, Plaintiff and his mother drafted a letter for DeVore to provide the school, including all the accommodations that Plaintiff sought. Dkt. No. 70-48, pp. 5-9 (Pg. ID 1898-1902). DeVore modified, signed, and sent the letter. Id. The letter stated that Plaintiff needed a customized testing schedule, an undisturbed testing environment, and no emails sent to him within an unspecified period prior to exams. Id.

         On March 27, 2015, a meeting was held between Plaintiff, Plaintiff's father, DeVore, a representative from SDS, and Dr. Patrick Bridge, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education. Dkt. No. 70-18, p. 32 (Pg. ID 1773). In the meeting, the group created a customized testing schedule that Plaintiff agreed to adhere to with no additional absences. Id.; Dkt. No. 83-7, p. 21 (Pg. ID 2485); Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 25 (Pg. ID 2521).

         On April 2, 2015, Plaintiff emailed and requested two new accommodations: to take exams in a room by himself and to take exams later in the day. Dkt. No. 70-26, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1795). The next day, Plaintiff requested another two new accommodations: to choose the room he takes his exams in and that Dr. Jason Booza, Director of Assessment and Medical Research, not be allowed to communicate with him before or during the day of his exam. Id. at 2. He did not contact the SDS about these accommodations and did not provide medical documentation at the time. Plaintiff emailed DeVore later that month asking for a letter to state his need for afternoon exams. Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 43 (Pg. ID 2539).

         On May 5, 2015, after missing additional make-up exams, Plaintiff created another custom testing schedule. Dkt. No. 70-50, p. 5 (Pg. ID 1909). Nevertheless, Plaintiff continued to miss exams on his customized schedule. Dkt. No. 70-48, p. 4 (Pg. ID 1897). On May 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Wayne State University with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, alleging discrimination based on national origin and disability. Dkt. No. 83-11, p. 6 (Pg. ID 2590). On May 29, 2015, Plaintiff emailed the school to requesting a specific proctor to administer his exam and noting how two exams popped up on the screen during a prior exam, which exacerbated his anxiety. Dkt. No. 70-48, p. 4 (Pg. ID 1897).

         At the end of May 2015, Plaintiff's Immunology grade appeal was denied at the final step of the appellate process. Dkt. No. 83-24, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2708). Plaintiff and his mother had an appointment with a nurse on June 9, 2015, where they expressed anger about the denial of his grade appeal, and an increase in Plaintiff's depressive symptoms. Dkt. No. 70-46, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1887).

         3. Promotions Committee Hearing

         On June 12, 2015, Plaintiff received a letter that he was being called before the Promotions Committee to review his academic performance and progress. Dkt. No. 70-31, p. 2 (Pg. ID 1809). The letter stated that, “[t]he committee has the authority to decide all possible outcomes including dismissal.” Id.

         Plaintiff submitted a letter for the Committee's consideration, detailing “the tortuous ride that has been [his] second year of medical school.” Dkt. No. 70-34. He spoke extensively about his anxiety, his grade appeal, and his plan to take missing exams over the summer and appeal other failed exams. Id. at 2-4. DeVore wrote a letter on Plaintiff's behalf on July 9, 2015. Dkt. No. 83-8, p. 46 (Pg. ID 2542). He stated in the letter that Plaintiff had been compliant in treatment, but later testified that the assessment was not accurate. Id. at 46-47, 58.

         On July 10, 2015, Plaintiff attended the meeting, along with his father and his attorney. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 21 (Pg. ID 2778). Plaintiff secretly recorded the hearing, including conversations between the committee members and the university's attorney after he had left the room. Id. at 22; Dkt. No. 70-36, p. 3 (Pg. ID 1828). Plaintiff did not receive a copy of the packet assembled summarizing his time at the medical school, Dkt. No. 83-24, and he disputes the accuracy of the information within the packet. Dkt. No. 83-26, p. 67 (Pg. ID 2824). After Plaintiff's presentation, the Promotions Committee voted to dismiss Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 70-36, ...

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