Halpern v. Wake Forest Univ. Health Scis., 669 F.3d 454 (4th Cir. 2012)

Facts: Halpern was enrolled in Wake Forest’s Medical School, and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and an anxiety disorder, both of which he were treated with medication. However, upon entering Wake Forest, Halpern failed to disclose either diagnosis and did not request disability related accommodations. Later, Halpern began having problems with professionalism throughout his first two years at the school. Once he began his clinical rotation, his performance was also very deficient, and, soon after thereafter, he left the school on medical leave.

Upon his return he requested special testing conditions, which the school granted. Halpern’s actions were continuously poor, which lead to a meeting with the Student Progress and Promotions Committee. At that meeting, Halpern contended that his medical condition did not affect his ability to “perform optimally in the medical curriculum.” He further asserted his belief that the incidents of unprofessionalism “were isolated” and that he had “addressed them.” After reviewing his records, the SPPC voted to recommend Halpern’s dismissal based on a pattern of unprofessional behavior. Halpern appealed to the Academic Appeals Committee, and then to the Dean, both upholding the dismissal. Halpern brought suit in the Western District of North Carolina, alleging that his dismissal violated the Rehabilitation Act and ADA because the Medical School failed to make reasonable accommodations for his disability.

Procedural Posture: Ronen Halpern brought an action alleging that his dismissal from medical school for unprofessional behavior violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellee Wake Forest University Health Sciences (Wake Forest or the Medical School). Halpern appealed.

Issue: Did Halpern’s dismissal violate the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA?

Holding: No. The Court held that Halpern was not “qualified” with or without accommodations for his disability.

Reasoning: Professionalism was an essential requirement of the Medical School’s program and that, without an accommodation, Halpern could not satisfy this requirement. In trying to get accommodations to become “qualified”, Halpern’s request was untimely. First, Halpern failed to inform Wake Forest that he was disabled until December 2007, and when he did so, he requested only testing accommodations. Even when he appeared before the SPPC, he maintained that his medical conditions did not impact his ability to participate in the Medical School. Second, the indefinite duration and uncertain likelihood of success of Halpern’s proposed accommodation renders it unreasonable.

In Myers v. Hose, the fourth circuit held that the Rehabilitation Act and ADA do not require an employer to give a disabled employee “an indefinite period of time to correct [a] disabling condition” that renders him unqualified. Where a professional school has reasonably determined based on an identifiable pattern of prior conduct that a student is unfit to join his chosen profession, federal law does not obligate the school to allow that student to remain in and graduate from its educational program. Thus, there were no violations by the school.

By: Stephen Warshavsky

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