Deaf medical student wins suit; Creighton must give him the accommodations he demanded

OMAHA—A medical student’s long battle to receive the accommodations for his hearing loss that he says he needs to graduate from Creighton University Medical School is nearing a successful conclusion.

Michael Argenyi
Michael Argenyi

As discussed in several posts at HearingHealthMatters.org since 2012, Michael Argenyi, who wears a cochlear implant, applied to Creighton University in 2008 as hearing impaired. While the Omaha university offered him some accommodations, Argenyi insisted in a suit brought in 2011 against the university it failed to provide inadequate accommodation for his disability. He said that he was disadvantaged vis a vis other students and that Creighton’s failure to accommodate him caused him significant stress, all of which he said violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

When the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska found that Creighton’s accommodations to the student satisfied all legal requirements, Argenyi appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Omaha.  On July 19, 2013, that court unanimously held that “a reasonable fact finder could determine that Argenyi was denied an opportunity to benefit from medical school equal to that of his non-disabled classmates. The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Creighton should therefore be reversed and the case remanded.”

At that point, Creighton and Argenyi could have tried to work out a settlement in this case. Indeed, that is what Fred Cohen, HearingHealthMatters.org’s expert on legal matters, recommended in his Hearing View published August 21, 2013. He wrote, “Practically speaking, Creighton should review its medical education program from classroom to rounds to patient contacts and determine what it takes for a student like Argenyi to have an experience like or equal to those of his hearing-enabled classmates. But even before the university does that, a settlement with this young man is in order.”

Instead though, the case went quickly to trial in District Court, starting on August 22. Two weeks later, the jury reached the verdict that Creighton University had violated Argenyi’s rights under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The decision cleared the way for him to complete his medical education at Creighton with the accommodations that he had asked for.

Howard Rosenblum
Howard Rosenblum

In the case, Argenyi was represented by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD); Stein & Vargas, a Maryland law firm specializing in cases involving persons with disabilities; and Disability Rights Nebraska.

After the jury’s decision, Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association for the Deaf, said, “Every university, college, and school in the country should take note that deaf and hard-of-hearing people can achieve any dream, including becoming a doctor, and the law clearly requires communication access to make such dreams possible. All schools should heed this case and support these dreams.”

 

NOT OVER YET

On December 20, District Judge Laurie Smith Camp said the medical school must provide Argenyi with the accommodations he asked for when he resumes medical school next year. However, the judge ruled against Argenyi’s demand that the college reimburse him for the more than $100,000 of his own money that he spent during his first two years of medical school on an electronic transcription system and interpreter services that the university had refused to cover.

Argenyi’s attorney, Mary Vargas, said she would appeal the denial of reimbursement.