Judge dismisses former med student's ADA suit

By Jon Campisi | Feb 15, 2013

A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted summary judgment to the National Board of Medical Examiners in a case in which the group was being sued by a medical school student who claimed she was discriminated against when the board failed to accommodate her visual impairment when she sat for a medical school test.

As previously reported by the Pennsylvania Record, Maryland resident Maria Mahmood sued the NBME in late March over claims that the defendant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when she was not given appropriate accommodations while taking her USMLE CK-II test on Aug. 8, 2011.

The defendant had argued that the undisputed facts established that Mahmood, in fact, disrupted efforts by test administrators to implement her agreed-upon accommodations when she set a fire in the bathroom at the test center.

Mahmood’s complaint stated that she was placed under an “illegal” three-year suspension arising out of the incident in which she supposedly set fire to toilet paper in the ladies room.

Nobody was injured in the fire, court papers state, but Mahmood was nevertheless arrested and ordered to complete 250 hours of community service, after which she was able to petition the courts to have her criminal record expunged.

In her complaint, Mahmood had asserted that the medical exam was in no way affected by the plaintiff’s actions on that day, and that there was no evidence that anyone who was taking the first part of the exam witnessed Mahmood perform “any irregular conduct or that anyone in the exam room was even aware of what plaintiff did.”

Mahmood contended in her lawsuit that the three-year suspension lodged against her by the board had prevented her from completing her medical education in the seven-year timeframe required by the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, which is the school Mahmood had been attending at the time of the incident.

In his Feb. 14 memorandum and opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice said that the undisputed facts establish that NBME provided Mahmood with all of her requested accommodations during the day of testing and that although technical problems with Mahmood’s requested equipment may have delayed her exam by hours or even a few days, undisputed testimony established that she was properly accommodated as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Test administrators were attempting to remedy the technical problems when Mahmood intentionally set a fire in the test center’s restroom and was arrested by police,” the court memorandum states. “Mahmood’s voluntary act of setting a fire at the testing center precluded NBME from successfully implementing the agreed-upon accommodations.”

Rice stated that the pivotal inquiry is whether the NBME denied Mahmood the equipment necessary to accommodate her visual impairment and allow her to take the exam in a manner that “accurately reflected her aptitude.”

The board never disputed that Mahmood has a disability and sought special accommodations, Rice noted, nor was there any dispute that when the plaintiff appeared for the test, that the board provided her with the requested accommodations.

Mahmood argued that the malfunction of her special computer monitor and her move from one room to another effectively deprived her of the accommodations because the board had no backup plan when the monitor failed.

Rice, however, wrote that Mahmood’s claim ignores the fact that the test administrators were working to repair or replace the broken monitor stand after it broke and while they were working, Mahmood set the bathroom fire and was jailed by police for about two weeks.

“No reasonable jury could conclude that NBME or its agents denied Mahmood accommodations that precluded her from taking the August 8, 2011 test,” Rice wrote. “There is no evidence Mahmood would have been required to take the test without the accommodations NBME agreed she should receive.”

Mahmood also failed to offer evidence that showed the board or its test administrators acted in bad faith, Rice wrote, but on the contrary, the facts show that the board granted Mahmood her requested accommodations and the administrators worked to resolve the mechanical problem with the computer monitor.

Rice directed the clerk of court to mark the case closed.

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