Case name: Letter to: SUNY Binghamton, No. 02‐16‐2193 (OCR 10/06/16).Ruling: The State University of New York — Binghamton University entered into a resolution agreement to resolve an allegation that the institution discriminated or, alternatively, retaliated, for denying her academic appeals.What it means: When institutions deny academic appeals, they should be prepared to explain how those decisions were made.Summary: A student enrolled at the State University of New York — Binghamton University alleged the university discriminated on the basis of her disability when her field placement at a mental health clinic was terminated, resulting in her dismissal from the Master's of Social Work Program. She also alleged her appeals were wrongly denied. According to her, the institution retaliated when she was banned from the university's downtown center and faced student conduct charges as a result of her self‐advocacy.The Office for Civil Rights found she never registered with the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. She disclosed her status as a recovering alcoholic to a field instructor, and claimed the instructor's knowledge of her condition negatively affected perceptions of her.While the student engaged in protected activity when she complained to campus staff that she believed she had been terminated from a placement because of her disability, OCR found legitimate reasons for her dismissal. The placement had been terminated over “unprofessional behavior,” but instead of giving her a failing course, the institution gave her an “incomplete” and allowed her to go into a different placement to give her a chance to complete the course. However, a field supervisor at the new placement complained about her “inability to respect authority, accept feedback, and the implications this had for work with clients.” A field liaison met with her to discuss the concerns and granted her an eight‐week extension to address the issues. Her dismissal resulted from a failing grade, despite numerous efforts on the part of the institution and second placement agency to remedy concerns.In regard to her claim that the institution discriminated or, alternatively, retaliated, for denying her academic appeals, OCR found that the university denied her appeals, or declined to review them, and upheld her failing grade in the course. The institution entered into a voluntary resolution agreement to resolve this claim. Regarding her allegation that being banned from the university downtown center and filing student conduct charges constituted retaliation, OCR found that an investigation by the student conduct office, which included numerous witness interviews, concluded the student had engaged in “verbally aggressive and physically intimidating behavior” with professors, staff, and students. Despite that, it didn't file conduct charges because the complainant was no longer an enrolled student by the conclusion of the investigation. Since OCR determined the institution had not subjected the student to a materially adverse action, there was insufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.
Campus Legal Advisor – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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