Former graduate student suing CMU, employees for $75,000 over ethical issues
Central Michigan University and six faculty members and administrators face a lawsuit by a former-graduate student alleging she was “unjustly dismissed from the program” in April 2009.
Former CMU graduate student Carrie Stephenson filed a complaint June 20 regarding ethical issues with the Speech-Language Pathology master’s program.
Stephenson’s complaint stated she was dismissed after withdrawing from a class. The university responded to the complaint on Aug. 8 in U.S. Federal District Court in Bay City, stating Stephenson had withdrawn from the program permanently, not just for the semester.
Stephenson requested a minimum of $75,000 in relief for reasons including tuition, loss of graduate school education and embarrassment.
The Mount Pleasant resident is suing Kathryn Atkinson, clinical supervisor of the SLP department; Roger Coles, interim dean of the College of Graduate Studies; Jane Jack, clinical director of the SLP department; Sue Lea, SLP instructor; Renny Tatchell, SLP professor; and Suzanne Woods, SLP associate professor.
Stephenson sent an email to Jack on March 31, 2009, saying she sought to withdraw from the program because of family and work obligations, and concerns about inadequate supervision and patient care.
“In addition, I am troubled by conduct I have experienced by certain professionals in the program,” Stephenson said in the email. “I do not feel I am able to continue participation based on what I feel very well could be ethical misconduct.”
The ethical misconduct Stephenson referred to was a lack of supervision in the class she withdrew from.
Stephenson didn’t comment, but her attorney, Nicholas Roumel, said it is “only 2 percent,” likely that the case will make it to trial on Sept. 25, 2012. He said similar cases are often settled outside of court or dismissed.
The class she withdrew from, CDO 749: Clinical Practicum in Speech-Language Pathology or Audiology, requires students to work with clients and document coursework.
Roumel said Stephenson was concerned she was not receiving adequate supervision for her patients. He said the people primarily responsible for the medical relationship are the supervisors in the department, not the students.
“It’s not her relationship,” Roumel said. “She’s not a licensed professional, she’s the student.”
In the university’s response to the complaint, the defendants denied any allegation of ethical violations by Stephenson’s clinical instructors. While Stephenson had a right to withdraw from the program, she did not have a right to abandon her clients or refuse to complete client reports without consequence, documents said.
CMU and its attorney, Michael E. Cavanaugh, referred comments to Director of Public Relations Steve Smith and General Counsel Manuel Rupe, who both declined comment saying the university does not comment on the specific claims during the course of litigation.
According to the plaintiff, Tatchell wrote to Coles on April 9, 2009 and stated Stephenson “appears to have violated (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) by removing documentation from a client file in the Carls Center.”
However, Lea said in an email to Tatchell later that month she had spoken with Stephenson, who had not taken any documents from a client file with her.
Roumel said it was ironic for CMU to allege Stephenson had violated HIPAA after she sought to withdraw from a class because she had ethical concerns.
“I think they were retaliating against her for standing up for her legal rights,” he said.
Defendants deny any of Stephenson’s rights were violated.
According to the email Coles sent to Stephenson on April 10, 2009, Tatchell recommended Stephenson’s removal from the SLP program, and Coles informed Stephenson she would no longer be able to take classes toward her master’s degree in the SLP program.
Roumel said Stephenson had the right as a student to withdraw from the course, and CMU violated its own policies by removing her from the program.
Another dispute rose from Stephenson’s grade after withdrawing from the course. The plaintiff’s complaint said Stephenson was earning an ‘A’ at the time she withdrew, and should have received a ‘W’ for withdrawing from the course instead of the ‘E’ she received.
“Carrie pretty much had an ‘A’ in all her practicums,” Roumel said. “They changed her grade from an ‘A’ to an ‘E’ because they held the withdrawal against her.”
The university’s response said Lea had determined Stephenson’s midterm grade was an ‘A,’ but her final grade was 29.75 percent, a failing grade.
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