Student sues university after failing course twice, says school didn’t fully accommodate mental illnesses

Jennifer Burbella filed a federal lawsuit against Misericordia University, the school's president, the chair of the Nursing Department, and a professor, asking for $75,000 in unspecified damages.

Burbella reportedly alleges that she did not pass the course because the school failed to fully accommodate her.

A student at a Catholic liberal arts school is suing her university after she twice failed a required course, alleging that Misericordia University faculty and administrators failed to properly accommodate her.

According to the Times-Tribune in Penn., nursing student Jennifer Burbella filed a federal lawsuit against the university, Misericordia president Thomas Botzman, Nursing Department Chairwoman Cynthia Mailloux, and Nursing Professor Christina Tomkins, asking for more than $75,000 for unspecified damages.

In the lawsuit, Burbella claims that she “broke down and wept more than once” during a final exam in the mandatory course whenever Tomkins did not do enough to help her.

According to the Times-Tribune, Burbella’s lawyer Harry McGrath alleges that Burbella has suffered from anxiety, depression, and poor concentration—even since before her enrollment at the Pennsylvania school—and had been treated by Misericordia’s Counseling and Psychological Service Center. The lawsuit reportedly claims that Burbella experienced “great anxiety as a result of her many challenges, both socially and academically, as well as medical issues with her family.”

McGrath contended that while at school, located in northeastern Pennsylvania, Burbella had “some average, but primarily below average grades.”

According to the lawsuit, Burbella failed Functional Health Patterns of Adults IV in 2014. Needing a C to pass the course, Burbella retook the required class again that summer, claiming that she felt pressured to do so.

However, the second time she took the course, Burbella received special accommodations for the final exam. She was allowed to take the exam in a “distraction-free” area and was allotted extra time for completion. She was also allowed to ask questions during the test, although the lawsuit contends that while she repeatedly called Tomkins, the professor never answered.

The lawsuit also claims that Burbella was made to take the exam in a separate building from her classmates, even though she asked to be in the same building. Another disabled student was supposedly able to take the exam in a different room in the same building as the rest of Tomkins’ class.

As a result of the failure, Burbella was unable to graduate with a nursing degree.

Paul Krzywicki, a spokesman for the university, declined to comment on the allegations to Campus Reform on advice from Misericordia’s legal counsel. While other media outlets are referring to Burbella as a “student” of the university, Krzywicki said in an email that he could not confirm her status at the school as it’s the university policy to “not to disclose information about students without their prior consent.”

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