Jim Boyle Jun. 4, 2014, 2:39pm


A graduate students suffering from the effects of Lyme Disease says that La Salle

University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when the school ousted her from the Master's program when it should have made accommodations for her illness, according to a federal lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Amber Gordon enrolled in La Salle's Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) masters program in the fall of 2009 and struggled to complete the course requirements while dealing with severe symptoms that would later be diagnosed as Lyme disease, caused by two tick bites in 2005 and 2010. In January 2014, the school informed Gordon that she had been dropped from the program, six months shy of graduating. She is seeking relief that would allow her to complete the oral examination and receive her degree, plus coverage for court costs.

The claim says that Gordon joined the graduate program at the behest of her own family's therapist, Dr. Donna Tonrey, who was an advisor for the MFT department. As her family's doctor between 2004 and 2010, Tonrey was aware that Gordon suffered from chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, limited use of her left arm and other medical issues. The complaint says that she also knew Gordon received special accommodations from her high school and college, including extended time for assignments and flexibility in attendance.

La Salle's MFT program requires 600 hours of internship experience over three semesters. Gordon claims she completed more than 1,200 hours over five semesters, but lack of attendance due to health problems prevented her from fully completing an internship semester. Her regular absences caused her to be dropped from the programs mid-semester. The plaintiff says that La Salle should have made accommodations for her disabilities and intervened on her behalf, but her advisers refused to step in.

Her first internship began in August 2011 at Crozer Chester Hospital, which she performed while fighting constant pain and nausea. In October, she underwent surgery to have her gallbladder removed. Gordon claims that La Salle's uwillingness to find her transportation or give her schedule flexibility forced her to drop out of the internship.

In the next semester, Gordon successfully applied for an internship at the Lenape Valley Foundation. Her health problems persisted and even worsened by the spring of 2013, causing Gordon to be late or absent from work. With five weeks left in the internship, Lenape Valley Foundation dropped Gordon from the program. In April 2013, Gordon had been placed on academic probation and told to complete two more semesters of internships.

The plaintiff began her third internship in July 2013 at Rise Above, a drug and alcohol treatment center. Again, as her symptoms worsened, she struggled to maintain her scheduled hours. In the complaint, she blames the school for failing to provide any accommodations or assistance with her disabilities.

Gordon was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease in December 2013, and she informed her internship supervisor of her condition the following month. Shortly after, Rise Above dropped Gordon from the internship, followed by La Salle dismissing her from the MFT program.

The plaintiff is represented by Dave Frankel of Frankel & Kershenbaum, LLC, in Bryn Mawr.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-03056-LFR.

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