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Martin v. Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

October 23, 2017




         This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 12) filed by Defendant Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University.[1] Plaintiff Antonio B. Martin's Motion for Leave [14] to file his untimely response to the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Because Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence to show that there is evidence upon which a jury could find in his favor, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


         In October 2016, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint of Employment Discrimination (d/e 1) on a preprinted form. Plaintiff was a student in the M.D. program at Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine before being dismissed. Compl., Statement of Facts ¶ 1.

         Plaintiff is a black male who suffers from Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Id. Despite completing the 2014-2015 academic year, Plaintiff was dismissed from the medical school in June 2015 for poor grades. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff alleges, however, that the causes of his difficulties were Defendant's failure to accommodate his disability, Defendant's falsification of information contained in Plaintiff's student record, Plaintiff's health issues resulting from the hostile environment, and Defendant's practice of assigning African-American students to less-qualified clinical mentors. Id. Plaintiff claims that he was discriminated against on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701; and on the basis of his race and gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

         Defendant moves for summary judgment. Defendant states that Plaintiff was not an employee of SIU but was a medical student. Defendant further asserts that Plaintiff's use of the form employment discrimination complaint is erroneous and the cited statutes do not apply. Defendant agrees, however, that a recipient of federal funds, like SIU, is prohibited from discriminating against individuals based on race, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d and based on sex, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Defendant further agrees that SIU is required to reasonably accommodate a student's disability, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701. The Court will address Plaintiff's claims under the statutes identified by Defendant. See Hatmaker v. Memorial Med. Ctr., 819 F.3d 74, 743 (7th Cir. 2010) (“Even citing the wrong statute needn't be a fatal mistake, provided the error is corrected in response to the defendant's motion for summary judgment and the defendant is not harmed by the delay in correction”).

         Plaintiff's response to the Motion for Summary Judgment was due on August 7, 2017.[2] On August 10, 2017, this Court entered a Text Order noting that Plaintiff had failed to respond to the motion. The Court granted Plaintiff until August 18, 2017 to file a response. The Court also advised Plaintiff that a failure to respond would result in the Court assuming that all of Defendant's undisputed material facts are true. Plaintiff failed to file a response.

         On September 1, 2017, the Court noted that the Clerk's office did not send Plaintiff the standard Rule 56 notice that is sent when a motion for summary judgment is filed in a pro se case. The Court directed the Clerk to send Plaintiff the notice and granted Plaintiff until September 15, 2017 to file a response. Plaintiff again failed to file a response.

         On Friday, September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Petition for Leave of Court to File Late (d/e 14). Plaintiff asserted that his response was complete but that he did not have the chance to include citations in the filing. The response did not include any evidentiary support. Plaintiff asked for the opportunity to update the motion so that the citations could be “noted” over the weekend. Plaintiff did not file his updated motion the following Monday, September 25.

         On September 26, 2017, the Court entered a text order stating: “Before the Court rules on Plaintiff's motion for leave, the Court grants Plaintiff one last extension of time.” The Court directed Plaintiff to file his updated response on or before September 29, 2017. The Court warned Plaintiff that failure to do so would result in the Court denying Plaintiff leave to file his late response. Plaintiff has filed to file an updated response with citations and/or evidence. Nonetheless, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion for Leave of Court to File Late (d/e 14) but notes that no evidentiary support has been submitted.


         The Court takes the following facts from Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts. Plaintiff's response to Defendant's statement of undisputed facts failed to cite evidentiary documentation for his response, as required by Local Rule 7.1(D)(b)(2). Dale v. Poston, 548 F.3d 563, 568 (7th Cir. 2008) (although a court must construe pro se pleadings liberally, a pro se party must still follow the procedural rules). Therefore, the facts are deemed admitted.

         The Board of Trustees of SIU operates and manages SIU. a public university with campuses in Carbondale, Edwardsville, Springfield, and Alton, Illinois. SIU operates an accredited medical school.

         Plaintiff was a student of SIU who attempted to complete the first year of the medical school program three times. The first year of the four-year medical school program is conducted on the Carbondale, Illinois campus. The first year of the school program includes an introduction to professional life as a physician, including basic clinical skills; basic concepts of disease and disorders, which integrate basic sciences; and the development of life-long learning skills. The first year is divided into three units based on body systems: the cardiovascular/respiratory/renal unit; the sensomotor systems and behavior unit; and the endocrine/reproductive/gastrointestinal unit.

         Students are evaluated on three broad categories of performance: cognitive academic performance, which includes concepts of basic anatomy, physiology, and sciences; non-cognitive academic performance, which includes the consistent display of behavior congruent with the standards of the profession such as good judgment, integrity, appropriate interpersonal relations with patients, faculty and peers, self-discipline, and dependability; and “doctoring” which introduces students to applying their knowledge in the setting of simulated patients, focusing on taking and interpreting normal histories and physical findings. Students are graded with a system that assigns a rating of Satisfactory, Concern, or Unsatisfactory to each category on which they are evaluated. A Concern rating is an indication that student performance is less than expected and the student must modify his or her learning activities. A succession of Concern ratings, or an Unsatisfactory rating, may result in recommendations for remediation from the Student Progress Committee.

         Each medical student is assigned a clinical mentor during his or her first year as part of the student's clinical skills (doctoring) sessions. While Plaintiff was a student at SIU, a student was expected to spend a minimum of sixteen hours per unit with his or her assigned mentor on at least three different dates, during which time the student was to learn basic clinical skills such as history taking, use of instruments, physical examinations, and oral case presentations. Students are evaluated by their mentors and, in turn, each student submits a mentor evaluation in January and May. Mentors are not assigned to students based on the race of either the student or the mentor. During Plaintiff's first two years, he was assigned a physician mentor. During Plaintiff's third attempt at the first-year curriculum, he was assigned to Mike Staff, a physician assistant, as a mentor. Mr. Staff is an experienced, highly qualified mentor for SIU's medical students who has consistently received positive evaluations from those students that he has mentored. A total of fifteen students, including Plaintiff, have been assigned to Mr. Staff since the 2003-2004 academic year. Only five of those students self-identified as minorities, four African American and one Latino. Plaintiff gave Mr. Staff a positive evaluation at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.

         The Student Progress System is the system employed by the School of Medicine for considering matters of student progress. The Student Progress Committee is a standing committee within the school responsible for monitoring the progress of all students through the system. The Student Progress Committee functions as an advisory body to the Dean and determines whether the established standards of academic conduct have been met. The Student Progress Committee is composed of a Chair, Vice Chair, ten faculty members from the Springfield campus, four faculty members from the Carbondale campus, five students, and several ex-official members, one of whom is Erik Constance, M.D., the Associate Dean for Students and Admissions.

         SIU has an Office of Disability Support Services to provide resources for disabled students pursuant to the Board of Trustee's policies for the protection and accommodation of disabled students. Medical students who believe they need an accommodation for a disability can contact an appropriate school representative, identifying his or her disability and the requested accommodations. During Plaintiff's three attempts to pass the first year of medical school, he twice requested one accommodation- extended time on tests. That request was made during his first and second attempts at the first-year curriculum and was granted both times.

         Plaintiff was admitted to the School of Medicine as a first year student for the 2012-2013 academic year (Class of 2016). On September 19, 2012, the Student Progress Committee met and discussed concerns related to Plaintiff's professional conduct reported by Linda Herrold, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, and Sandra Shea, Ph.D., the Year 1 Curriculum Director. Ms. Herrold and Dr. Shea had submitted to the Student Progress Committee a Concern Note of Non-Cognitive Academic Performance identifying 14 Preliminary Reports of Non-Cognitive Academic Performance. The Concern Note referenced behaviors of Plaintiff related to tardiness, absence from teaching activities, and failure to complete required written assignments and other paperwork. After considering the report of Ms. Herrold and Dr. Shea and Plaintiff's written response, the Student Progress Committee concluded that Plaintiff had failed to abide by the terms and conditions of the School of Medicine Honor Code in the categories of Accountability and Respect for Others. The Student Progress Committee, with the Dean's concurrence, issued Plaintiff a Letter of Academic Warning and advised that further lapses in non-cognitive academic performance would be reviewed by the Student Progress Committee and could result in academic probation, a leave of absence, or potential dismissal from SIU.

         Plaintiff received an overall grade of Concern on his mid-unit cardiovascular/respiratory/renal exam. Plaintiff received grades of Unsatisfactory in embryology and gross anatomy and Concern in pharmacology and respiratory physiology. On November 19, 2012, shortly after the cardiovascular/respiratory/renal exam unit ended, Plaintiff requested a leave of absence for the remainder of the 2012-2013 academic year. Year 1 faculty staff reviewed Plaintiff's request. Year 1 faculty staff recommended to the Student Progress Committee that Plaintiff be granted the option of returning the next year on academic probation subject to certain conditions. The faculty's recommendation and Plaintiff's request for a leave of absence were reviewed by the Student Progress Committee on November 28, 2012 and approved on a vote of 16-1.

         On December 4, 2012, Plaintiff was advised in writing of the approval of his request. A Letter of Academic Warning was sent to Plaintiff advising him that, if he chose to return with the Class of 2017, he would be placed on academic probation with the following terms of probation: (1) he must not receive any Preliminary Reports or Concern Notes related to non-cognitive academic performance; and (2) he must receive a non-cognitive behavior and professionalism performance rating (grade) of Satisfactory (not Concerns or Unsatisfactory) for each of the three units in his repeat of the Year 1 Curriculum. Plaintiff was also instructed to meet with Ms. Herrold prior to his return to discuss the serious concerns of the Student Progress Committee as well as the requirements of his academic probation.

         Plaintiff returned to SIU in August 2013 to attempt the first year of medical school again. As advised by the Student Progress Committee in December 2012, Plaintiff returned on academic probation with the conditions outlined in the December 4, 2012 letter.

         At its October 16, 2013 meeting, the Student Progress Committee again discussed Plaintiff's professional conduct since returning in August 2013. Faculty members reported Plaintiff's repeated tardiness to his tutor group sessions and tardiness to the Professional Development Lab.

         The Student Progress Committee noted that Plaintiff's conduct constituted a violation of his academic probation and that a meeting to consider his dismissal from the school could be scheduled. However, the Student Progress Committee unanimously voted to allow Plaintiff to remain in school but sent him another Letter of Academic Warning. That letter advised Plaintiff that the Student Progress Committee was seriously concerned about his lapses in professional conduct. The Student Progress Committee instructed Plaintiff to meet with Ms. Herrold to discuss the concerns of the Student Progress Committee and encouraged him to meet with Dr. Wes McNeese from the Office of Diversity.

         The cardiovascular/respiratory/renal unit ended on November 22, 2013. At the end of that unit in 2013, Plaintiff's overall grade was Unsatisfactory (with the lowest score in the class) with Unsatisfactory grades in anatomy, embryology, biochemistry, immunology, and renal physiology and Concerns in pharmacology, behavioral and social sciences, cardiovascular physiology, and respiratory physiology. Plaintiff also received a rating of Unsatisfactory in doctoring. Based on his performance, the Year 1 faculty recommended that Plaintiff be dismissed from the School of Medicine. At its December 18, 2013 meeting the Student Progress Committee again discussed Plaintiff's performance and the Year 1 faculty's recommendation. The Student Progress Committee noted that, in addition to Plaintiff failing academics, he had also received another Concern Note dated December 9, 2013, submitted by Linda Herrold, identifying several non-cognitive deficiencies relating to tardiness and failure to timely turn in work.

         During the approximately five months of the 2013-2014 academic year that Plaintiff attended, the only accommodation he requested for a disability was for extended time on tests. Plaintiff took advantage of the accommodation during a cardiovascular/respiratory/renal unit exam in 2013. He was placed in a separate room for the exam. The exam was a computer exam. Due to limitations associated with the facility, the number of students, and the length of the exam, Plaintiff was scheduled for the morning shift of the exam. Because Plaintiff was granted more time to take the exam than his classmates, Dr. Shea explained to Plaintiff that he could not start the examination with his classmates without having the other students get up and leave and without having people come in for the afternoon shift during his extended time. When Plaintiff and Dr. Shea discussed these circumstances, Plaintiff agreed that it would be too distracting to have the class rotating around him. The only alternative was to place Plaintiff in a separate, quiet room. The purpose of placing Plaintiff in a room by himself for the ...

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