“Equal justice under law is more than an inscription atop the Supreme Court building, it is the ideal that Congress followed when enacting the ADA. By granting this injunction, it is that ideal that this Court finds is in the public interest to protect.”

--Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. in Featherstone v. PSWU

The quote above is timely given that the ADA’s 24th anniversary is this Saturday (July 26, 2014).  Before I summarize the court order the quote is from, I would like to introduce this space. Each month leading up to the 25th anniversary of the ADA I will be writing a series of discussions about how the ADA has influenced the work we do, your work, and the work of AHEAD has been influenced by the ADA.  Evolving law, like this case, is one strand in our understanding of disability; this series will look at history, evolving conceptions of disability, individual contributions and societal trends as we celebrate ideal of equity not only under the law but in all that we do.

On July 22, 2014 the  U.S. District Court in Yakima Washington issued an order requiring Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) to ensure Zachary Featherstone begins his medical education on August 4, 2014. Featherstone is seeking to become a doctor and has filed suit under the ADA alleging that PNWU discriminated on the basis of his disability.

Featherstone is deaf and relies on sign language and captioning in educational settings where he is unable to lip-read effectively. He applied for admission to PNWU. After an interview in which he used an interpreter, PNWU offered Featherstone admission into its osteopathic medicine program. About a month after he accepted the admission, Featherstone received a letter from PNWU revoking his admission because they believed  his presence would create a safety threat to patients and would compromise the educational experience of other students.

After filing suit for discrimination, Featherstone sought a preliminary injunction asking the Court to order PNWU to allow him to begin his education immediately and to provide the interpreters and captioning he needs for effective communication. The Court found that Featherstone met the standards for an injunction (demonstrating that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his claim of discrimination, that he would be irreparably harmed without the requested relief, and that the public interest supported granting of an injunction).  In its Order granting the injunction, the Court stated:

“While PNWU is a small, new medical school, when they opened their doors to providing students an education, they, like other schools, have to obey legal obligations that come with providing those services.”

and then concluded:

“Ultimately, the Court finds Plaintiff is likely to prove that he seeks reasonable and necessary accommodations that do not alter the nature of the educational program offered, the accommodations are available in Yakima, and may be paid for by outside funding. Based on the current record, the patient safety and clinical-program concerns raised by PNWU are unfound(ed) based upon the growing trend of successful deaf health care professionals. Accordingly, the Court grants the preliminary injunction, requiring PNWU to matriculate Plaintiff with his classmates on August 4, 2014, with the reasonable accommodations requested.”

L. Scott Lissner
Past-President of AHEAD (2012-2014)