Court Orders Medical School To Admit Deaf Student

Yakima,  Washington — The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington this afternoon issued a preliminary injunction ordering Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (“PNWU”) to ensure Zachary Featherstone begins his medical education on August 4, 2014. Featherstone, a deaf individual seeking to become a doctor, filed suit last month, alleging that PNWU discriminated on the basis of his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state disability law.

The complaint alleged that after earning admission to PNWU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, PNWU refused to allow Featherstone to begin his education because Featherstone is deaf. In an April 2014 letter, Dean Scandalis of PNWU attempted to revoke Featherstone’s admission claiming that his presence would create a safety threat to patients and would take away from the educational experience of its hearing students.

After filing suit, Featherstone sought preliminary relief asking the federal Court to order PNWU to allow him to begin his education immediately and to provide the interpreters and captioning he needs for effective communication.

To obtain this preliminary relief, Featherstone was required to demonstrate that he was likely to succeed on the merits of his claim, that he would be irreparably harmed absent a preliminary injunction, that the balance of hardships tipped in his favor, and that the public interest supported granting of an injunction.

In its Order, 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.” The Court further concluded, “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.” The Court also denied PNWU’s request that Featherstone be required to post a $200,000 bond.

Featherstone said that he is “overwhelmed and humbled to be given the opportunity to prove himself and pursue his dream.”

Featherstone was represented by Markowitz, Herbold, Glade and Mehlhaf, P.C., Stein & Vargas, LLP, and the National Association of the Deaf.

For more information, please contact:

  • Emily Teplin Fox, Markowitz, Herbold, Glade and Hehlhaf, P.C. (503)295­‐3085
  • Mary Vargas, Stein & Vargas, LLP (240)793-­3185