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Jury Finds in Favor of Deaf Medical Student but Awards No Damages

A federal jury in Omaha, Neb., decided on Wednesday that Creighton University had discriminated against a deaf medical student and violated federal laws by not providing him with special equipment and interpreters, the Associated Press reported. The jurors did not, however, award any damages to the student, Michael S. Argenyi, because they determined that the discrimination was unintentional.

Mr. Argenyi had requested specific accommodations before and after he began classes at Creighton’s School of Medicine, in August 2009. Those accommodations included equipment that transcribes spoken words onto a computer screen and “cued speech” interpreters, who could assist his lip-reading skills by using hand signals to distinguish sounds that appear the same on a speaker’s lips.

Creighton did provide other accommodations to Mr. Argenyi, but he found those inadequate. He sued the university in September 2009, contending that it was violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by denying him aids and services necessary to ensure “an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the School of Medicine.”

Mr. Argenyi went on to complete his first two years of medical school, taking out loans of more than $110,000 to pay for the assistance that Creighton declined to provide. He took a leave of absence in his third year, when the university refused to allow him to have an interpreter to interact with clinical patients, even if he paid for the interpreter himself. The medical school argued that the use of an interpreter could violate doctor-patient confidentiality.

In July 2011 both Mr. Argenyi and the university asked the federal district court in Omaha to decide the case in their favor by summary judgment. The judge sided with the university, holding that Mr. Argenyi had failed to prove that the specific accommodations he requested were necessary and that Creighton had provided “effective communication” as required under the two laws. But on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed that decision and sent the case back to the lower court for a trial.

Mr. Argenyi was in the courtroom on Wednesday when the verdict was announced, his lawyer said, and he considered the result “bittersweet.” His lawyer and the university’s lawyer disagreed over whether Creighton still could be ordered to reimburse Mr. Argenyi for the loans he took out for equipment and interpreters.

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