Michael E. Ginsberg, Esq. obtained a favorable trial verdict of dismissal in McInerny v. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Plaintiff had alleged discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Court found that Plaintiff had been granted all of his requested accommodations and that he was not discriminated against. The full decision is below.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
JOSEPH P. McINERNEY,
RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
APPEARANCES: OF COUNSEL:
OFFICE OF JOSEPH HEIN JOSEPH M. HEIN, ESQ.
Attorney for Plaintiff
6486 French’s Hollow Road
Altamont, NY 12009
PATTISON, SAMPSON, GINSBERG
& GRIFFIN, P.C. MICHAEL E. GINSBERG, ESQ.
Attorneys for Defendant
P.O. Box 208
22 First Street
Troy, NY 1218l
THE VINCELETTE LAW FIRM JONATHAN G. SCHOPF, ESQ.
Attorneys for Defendant
421 New Karner Road
Albany, NY 12205
DAVID N. HURD
United States District Judge
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 1 of 17
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Joseph P. McInerney (“plaintiff”) brings this action against Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute (“defendant” or “RPI”) pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181–12189 (2006), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
(“§ 504”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 701–796l (2006).1
A bench trial was conducted over seven days in Utica, New York on the following
dates: August 10, 2010; August 11, 2010; November 29, 2010; November 30, 2010;
December 1, 2010; December 2, 2010; and October 4, 2011. The following witnesses
testified: plaintiff; Leik Myrabo, former Associate Professor, RPI (“Professor Myrabo”);
Antoinette Maniatty, former Associate Chair of Graduate Studies, Department of Mechanical,
Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering (“MANE”), RPI (“Professor Maniatty”); Lester Gerhardt,
former Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education, RPI (“Dean Gerhardt”); John Tichy,
former MANE Department Head, RPI (“Dr. Tichy”); Mark Smith, Dean of Students, RPI;
Matthew Filippelli, Engineer, Graduate of RPI; Deborah Kaminski, Professor, RPI (“Professor
Kaminski”); and Kenneth Jansen by deposition, former Professor, RPI (“Professor Jansen”).
Decision was reserved.
After the conclusion of the bench trial, the parties were afforded time to review
transcripts of the proceedings and submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Those submissions have been received and reviewed together with the transcripts. The
following are the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as required by Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 52(a).
1 Plaintiff also brought a breach of contract claim which was dismissed on February 25, 2010, in a
Memorandum-Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part defendant’s motion for summary
judgment. McInerney v. Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst., 688 F. Supp. 2d 117 (N.D.N.Y. 2010) (amended on
March 24, 2010, to correct a typographic error, see ECF No. 107).
– 2 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 2 of 17
I. FINDINGS OF FACT2
In August 2000, McInerney suffered a bacterial brain infection, causing a stroke and
permanent brain damage. Despite multiple surgeries, he still suffers from numerous side
effects that sometimes make daily functioning difficult. The more talking, reading, working, or
typing he does, the more the side effects present themselves. He suffers from periodic
epileptic seizures, chronic fatigue, sleepiness, dizziness, head rushes, and leg pain.
In August 2001, McInerney enrolled at RPI as a Ph.D. student in the Mechanical
Engineering program. At that time, he was still suffering from the side effects of the brain
infection and stroke. Pursuant to RPI’s required procedure for requesting disability
accommodations, he filled out a “Student Fact Sheet.” Def.’s Ex. 1. He indicated on the
form that he wanted testing accommodations and for his professors to be notified of his
disability. After conversation with Debra Hamilton, Assistant Dean for Disabled Student
Services (“Dean Hamilton”), plaintiff requested fifty percent additional time to take exams.
Plaintiff’s professors were notified by letter of his condition, his protections under Title III and
Section 504, and his entitlement to additional test taking time.
As part of the MANE department, of which plaintiff was a student member, all
doctoral students must select a plan of study, choose a thesis advisor, pass an Oral
Department Qualifying Exam, pass a Doctoral Candidacy Exam, and successfully defend
their thesis. The thesis advisor must be a full-time tenured or tenure-track member of the
RPI faculty. McInerney’s plan of study “involved laser-supported detonation as a propulsion
method for light craft space vehicles powered by laser.” McInerney, 688 F. Supp. 2d at 121.
The following facts are taken from the evidence presented at trial. The 2 general facts are laid
out here; to the extent more specific facts are necessary to analyze an individual cause of action, they
will be referenced accordingly.
– 3 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 3 of 17
He chose Professor Myrabo as his original thesis advisor. In April 2002, plaintiff took and
passed the Oral Department Qualifying Exam.
Almost a year later, in early February 2003, Professor Myrabo asked to step down
as McInerney’s thesis advisor because plaintiff was difficult to work with. According to
Professor Myrabo, plaintiff’s behavior was confrontational, aggressive, demanding, inflexible,
belligerent, manipulative, and irrational. However, Professor Maniatty convinced Professor
Myrabo to continue working with McInerney if McInerney agreed. A meeting was held on
February 25, 2003 with plaintiff, Professor Maniatty, Professor Jansen, and Dean Hamilton,
at which time plaintiff decided he did not want Professor Myrabo to serve as his thesis
advisor because Professor Myrabo had removed some of plaintiff’s papers from the wall of
his office. Shortly thereafter, Professor Jansen became McInerney’s thesis advisor.
About a week before McInerney was scheduled to take his Doctoral Candidacy
Exam, he met with Professor Jansen who would also be one of the examiners, to explain his
medical condition and make arrangements for periodic breaks to rest during the exam.
Plaintiff brought to the meeting his letter of accommodation from the Disabled Student
Services Office and some medical records. Professor Jansen testified that he clearly
indicated to McInerney that if he needed a break during the exam, he could ask for it, and he
would get it. Plaintiff testified that Professor Jansen specifically advised he would provide a
break after plaintiff’s lecture, and any additional breaks that plaintiff asked for. McInerney
admits that he never made a request for breaks at specific intervals. Prior to the exam,
Professor Jansen notified the other examiners of McInerney’s condition, that he might ask for
breaks during the exam, and that if he were to ask for a break he was to get it. Finally, no
time limit was placed on the exam.
– 4 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 4 of 17
McInerney took the Doctoral Candidacy Exam in April 2003. The exam began with
plaintiff’s lecture, lasting approximately thirty minutes. He then took one fifteen minute break.
Following the break, questions ensued from the examiners. Examiner Professor Kaminiski
asked McInerney a series of questions about radiation, some of which he was unable to
answer. McInerney admitted that he was stumped by at least one question, but contends
that some of Professor Kaminski’s questions were unfair. According to plaintiff, she asked
questions for approximately ninety minutes. During this period, he became fatigued and
experienced head rushes. Plaintiff admits that he never asked for a break and never advised
the examiners that he was suffering from fatigue or head rushes. Plaintiff testified: “I mean,
looking back on this, I could have asked for taking breaks, but at the time I was not able to
reason my way through to ask for a break.” McInerney Tr., Aug. 10, 2010, ECF No. 144,
According to RPI, McInerney’s radiation model, prepared prior to the exam, was
flawed and he was unable to demonstrate a basic understanding of the fundamental
principles of radiation. After failing to answer certain questions, and failing to demonstrate
the required expertise in the field, plaintiff failed the Doctoral Candidacy Exam.
The day after failing the exam, McInerney met with Dr. Tichy. Plaintiff explained that
his failure to answer the questions was because he was not given adequate breaks and he
was fatigued as a result of his disability, not because of his lack of knowledge. He asked Dr.
Tichy to inform the examiners of this explanation. Dr. Tichy testified that he explained to
plaintiff that at the moment, he was on his way to a meeting and he could not do anything at
the time, but that normal academic protocol could run its course. Although he did not explain
it to plaintiff at the time, Dr. Tichy testified that he meant there were policies in place for a
– 5 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 5 of 17
student to appeal a failing grade and opportunities to retake the exam. The procedure a
student must follow after failing a Doctoral Candidacy Exam is not directly specified in
MANE’s Doctoral Degree Requirements. Depending on the nature of the deficiencies, a
student may be required to retake the Doctoral Candidacy Exam or resolve the deficiencies
and get each examiner’s approval.3 Although McInerney had the opportunity to reschedule
and retake the Doctoral Candidacy Exam, he never did, and therefore never fulfilled the
requirements of the program.
McInerney took a leave of absence for the 2003–2004 academic year. During that
time, he continued to work on his thesis and Professor Jansen continued to serve as his
advisor. Although on leave, McInerney spent time trying to learn how to run the computer
program PHASTA as part of his thesis, from home. Professor Jansen advised plaintiff to use
online tutorials which gave step-by-step directions for installing the code. Plaintiff found
learning the code to be very difficult and contends he had difficulties concentrating long
enough to use the tutorials. He asked Professor Jansen for a tutor which he offered to pay at
his own expense. However, he never requested a tutor as part of his disability
accommodation through RPI’s Disabled Student Services Office. Professor Jansen advised
plaintiff by e-mail: “I don’t think a tutor will be necessary, but we can cross that bridge
if/when we come to it.” Jansen Tr., Oct. 4, 2011, ECF No. 143, 12:21–23. Plaintiff believed
a tutor would identify the mistakes he was making in configuring the code while defendant
contends plaintiff was averse to learning the required code and merely wanted a tutor to help
3 As detailed in the Memorandum-Decision and Order, “[t]he allegations which state that
defendant failed to recognize plaintiff’s post-exam efforts were not properly pled in the amended
complaint and thus, the consideration of this claim will be strictly limited to defendant’s alleged failure to
give plaintiff a second opportunity to take the Candidacy Exam.” McInerney, 688 F. Supp. 2d at 126.
– 6 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 6 of 17
with the work.4 McInerney never successfully learned PHASTA and ultimately ended his
student-advisor relationship with Professor Jansen in July 2004. He continued to remain on
an extended leave of absence during the 2004–2005, 2005–2006, and 2006–2007 school
In July 2007, McInerney requested reactivation of his student status. In August, he
received a letter from Dean Gerhardt and Timothy Wei, then MANE Department Head,
informing him that in order to be readmitted to the doctoral program in Mechanical
Engineering, he would need to propose a new research topic, propose the name of a
research advisor, propose a potential Ph.D. thesis committee, and draft a graduate plan of
study. This was because plaintiff failed the Doctoral Qualifying Exam, did not meet the
follow-up requirements with Professor Kaminski, and lacked a thesis advisor after terminating
his relationship with Professor Jansen. In response to a letter from his attorney, plaintiff
received a second letter from Dean Gerhardt, reiterating the requirements to regain active
status and advising plaintiff that he must begin the dissertation process anew because he
declined to work with the only two professors at RPI who knew his research topic well
enough to supervise his research. As a result, his request for reactivation was denied.
To date, plaintiff has neither selected a new thesis topic nor been granted active
status at RPI.
II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination “on the basis of disability in the full and
equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or
4 Further testimony was elicited regarding whether plaintiff had problems with the code due to
the computer he was using.
– 7 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 7 of 17
accommodations” of any public place. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). The term “disability” means “a
physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” of an
individual. Id. § 12102(1)(A). The ADA defines “discrimination” to include
a failure to make reasonable modifications in polices, practices, or
procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to
individuals with disabilities, unless the entity can demonstrate that making
such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of such goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.
Id. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii). Thus, a place of public accommodation must provide “‘reasonable
accommodations’ for a disabled individual whenever doing so would provide that individual
with an opportunity to participate in, make use of, or derive a benefit from a program, facility,
or service that would otherwise not be equally accessible to disabled and non-disabled
individuals.” Andersen v. North Shore Long Island Jewish Healthcare, No. CV 12–1049,
2013 WL 784391, at *10 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2013), adopted by 2013 WL 784344 (E.D.N.Y.
Mar. 1, 2013). “This does not require a Title III defendant to provide a plaintiff with her ideal
or preferred accommodation; rather, the ADA requires that a defendant provide a plaintiff
with an accommodation that is ‘reasonable’ and permits the plaintiff to participate equally in
the good, service, or benefit offered.” Id. at *10. Whether a particular accommodation is
“reasonable” is a fact-specific determination, and must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Kennedy v. Dresser Rand Co., 193 F.3d 120, 121 (2d Cir. 1999).
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, enacted prior to the ADA, is narrower than the
ADA in that its provisions apply only to programs receiving federal financial assistance. 29
U.S.C. § 794(a). Section 504 states that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability
. . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be
denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity
– 8 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 8 of 17
receiving Federal financial assistance.” Id. The term “[p]rogram or activity” includes all of the
operations of “a college, university or other post secondary institution, or a public system of
higher education . . . any part of which is extended Federal financial assistance.” Id.
Title III and § 504 provide similar protections to individuals with disabilities and the
merits of such claims are generally considered together. Henrietta D. v. Bloomberg, 331
F.3d 261, 272 (2d Cir. 2003). To assert a claim under these statutes, plaintiff must establish
(1) that he is an individual with a disability; (2) that defendant is subject to the Acts; and
(3) that he was denied the opportunity to participate in or benefit from defendant’s services,
programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by defendant, by reason of his
disability. Powell v. Nat’l Bd. of Med. Exam’rs, 364 F.3d 79, 85 (2d Cir. 2004) corrected by
511 F.3d 238 (2d Cir. 2004).
First, defendant does not dispute that McInerney is disabled in that he has an
impairment which substantially limits the major life activities of learning and concentrating
and is thus disabled within the meaning of the statutes. As to the second element, as an
educational institution receiving Federal financial assistance, RPI is subject to Title III and
§ 504. At issue is the third element: whether plaintiff was denied the opportunity to
participate in or benefit from RPI’s services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise
discriminated against by RPI by reason of his disability.
A. Failure to Provide Sufficient Rest Breaks During Exam—First and Second
Causes of Action
McInerney alleges RPI violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act when his
examiners failed to provide sufficient rest breaks during his Doctoral Candidacy Exam. An
– 9 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 9 of 17
entity administering an exam is required by ADA regulations to select and administer an
exam so as to best ensure that when administered to an individual with a disability, such
exam accurately reflects the individual’s aptitude. 28 C.F.R. § 36.309(b)(1)(I). To achieve
this goal, an entity may be required to make modifications to the exam including changes in
the length of time permitted for completion and adaptation of the manner in which the
examination is given. Id. § 36.309(b)(2).
Plaintiff met with Professor Jansen prior to the exam, and explained his medical
condition and need for breaks. Professor Jansen testified that he clearly indicated to plaintiff
that if he needed a break, he could ask for it, and he would get it. Plaintiff acknowledged this
at trial. During the exam, he received one break after approximately thirty minutes, but never
asked for another one. Moreover, during the exam, plaintiff behaved in a manner that
appeared normal and did not appear to the examiners as though his disability was affecting
him. McInerney himself testified that although he was suffering from fatigue and head
rushes, he hid this from the examiners.
Based on the testimony adduced at trial, it was clear that plaintiff was free to ask for
breaks at any point during the exam. He admitted that he could have asked for breaks but
did not. Plaintiff’s conversation with Professor Jansen prior to the exam did not preclude him
from requesting or receiving frequent breaks during the exam. McInerney’s failure to request
additional breaks during the exam was the reason he was not given additional breaks. Thus
plaintiff has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that RPI did not provide him
reasonable accommodations as required by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.
Accordingly, the first and second causes of action will be dismissed.
– 10 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 10 of 17
B. Failure to Inform Examiners of Disability—Third Cause of Action
McInerney alleges that RPI violated the ADA when Dr. Tichy failed to assist him in
communicating to the examiners the problems he encountered during the Doctoral
Candidacy Exam. It is undisputed that plaintiff approached Dr. Tichy the day after failing the
exam and asked Dr. Tichy to explain to the examiners that he failed to answer the questions
properly because he was not given adequate breaks and was fatigued as a result of his
disability, not because of his lack of knowledge. It is also undisputed that Dr. Tichy did not
fulfill plaintiff’s request.
Dr. Tichy’s failure to relay plaintiff’s explanation to the examiners was not a violation
of the ADA. Accommodations for plaintiff’s disability—i.e. frequent breaks—were discussed
prior to the exam and, as explained above, were provided to the extent that plaintiff, who was
in control of requesting those breaks, asked for them. Moreover, the examiners were
informed of plaintiff’s disability prior to the exam and were told that plaintiff would need
frequent breaks and that if he requested a break he were to be given one. Professor
Kaminski testified to this and plaintiff himself admitted that examiners Professors Jansen and
Theodorian Borca-Tascuic were aware of his disability. Plaintiff has failed to prove by a
preponderance of the evidence that Dr. Tichy’s failure to inform the examiners of something
they already knew was a violation of the ADA.
Therefore, plaintiff’s third cause of action will be dismissed.
C. Failure to Provide a Second Opportunity to Take Exam—Fourth and Fifth
Causes of Action
McInerney alleges that RPI’s refusal to provide him a second opportunity to take the
Doctoral Candidacy Exam constituted an act of discrimination in violation of the ADA and the
Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff testified that it is a Ph.D. student’s obligation to schedule their
– 11 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 11 of 17
Doctoral Candidacy Exam. Moreover, by plaintiff’s own pleadings and testimony, he
acknowledges the requirement of having to take a second exam after failing the initial exam.5
Professor Kaminski testified that at some point following the exam, she became satisfied with
plaintiff’s radiation model, and felt he was ready to retake the exam. She testified that she
expected him to reschedule the exam but he did not do so. Plaintiff testified that he did not
attempt to schedule a second exam because he had no thesis advisor with which to
schedule an exam. However, he acknowledged that for a period of time after he did not pass
the first exam and before he terminated his relationship with Professor Jansen, he had an
advisor. McInerney cannot establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he was denied
the opportunity to retake the exam by reason of his disability. Instead, he failed to
reschedule a retake of the exam. Even if plaintiff was eventually unable to retake the exam
because he lacked a thesis advisor, the lack of a thesis advisor does not constitute
discrimination as explained below.
Accordingly, the fourth and fifth causes of action will be dismissed.
D. Failure to Provide Assistance to Understand and Use the Fluids
Code—Sixth Cause of Action
McInerney alleges RPI failed to provide him reasonable accommodations in violation
of the ADA when Professor Jansen refused to find him a tutor to assist him with learning
PHASTA. Professor Jansen first advised plaintiff that he didn’t “think a tutor will be
necessary, but we can cross that bridge if/when we come to it.” Jansen Tr., 12:21–23. His
testimony indicated that he was reluctant to provide plaintiff a tutor before he tried the online
While his post-exam efforts to satisfy Professor Kaminski’s questions may 5 be disputed, those
actions are not at issue here. As previously explained, those allegations were not pleaded in the
– 12 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 12 of 17
tutorials. Even after plaintiff tried the online tutorials, Professor Jansen encouraged plaintiff
to continue to attempt to use the tutorials because all of his students had success with them.
Moreover, the online tutorials could be stopped, rewound, and viewed at plaintiff’s leisure, in
conformance with plaintiff’s requested accommodations for extra time and rest breaks.
Professor Jansen also advised McInerney that he needed to develop his computer science
skills and that he needed to work through learning the code. There is no evidence that
Professor Jansen was entirely unwilling to provide plaintiff with a tutor due to his disability nor
has RPI indicated an unwillingness to accommodate plaintiff’s disability. Defendant granted
McInerney all of his requested accommodations including fifty percent extra time on exams,
accommodations during his Oral Department Qualifying Exam in his first year, and breaks as
needed during his Doctoral Qualifying Exam. Plaintiff has not proven by a preponderance of
the evidence that defendant violated the ADA when it did not provide him a tutor to learn
Therefore, the sixth cause of action will be dismissed.
E. Failure to Assist in Finding a Thesis Advisor—Seventh Cause of Action
McInerney alleges RPI violated the ADA by failing to assist him in finding a third
thesis advisor. Pursuant to RPI policy, a Ph.D. candidate’s thesis advisor must be a full-time
tenured or tenure-track member of the RPI faculty. McInerney testified that he ended his
student-advisor relationships with both Professors Myrabo and Jansen.6 Dean Gerhardt and
Dr. Tichy testified that Professors Myrabo and Jansen were the only full-time tenured or
6 Although there was conflicting testimony regarding the events leading up to the termination of
Professor Myrabo as plaintiff’s advisor—specifically whether plaintiff was in fact confrontational,
aggressive, inflexible, and belligerent—plaintiff testified that during a February 25, 2003, meeting he
decided he did not want Professor Myrabo as his thesis advisor because Professor Myrabo had removed
some of plaintiff’s papers from the wall of his office.
– 13 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 13 of 17
tenure-track faculty members with the necessary expertise to advise plaintiff’s thesis.
Professor Maniatty and Dr. Tichy also both acknowledged that they were not competent to be
plaintiff’s thesis advisor. Moreover, Dr. Tichy testified that RPI does not hire tenured or
tenure-track faculty members for the specific purpose of advising a particular Ph.D.
candidate’s project. He also explained that if RPI were to allow a modification of its policies
and permit an individual who is not a tenured or tenure-track professor to act as a thesis
advisor, the graduate requirements for obtaining a Ph.D. at RPI would be fundamentally
altered and the quality of the degree received under those circumstances would be lessened.
Further, such alteration would have a negative impact on RPI’s accreditation status and its
reputation and as a world renowned engineering school.
McInerney has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that RPI violated
the ADA by failing to find him a third thesis advisor when it employed no faculty proficient in
plaintiff’s chosen field of study and after plaintiff voluntarily terminated relationships with two
professors who were competent in his chosen area of study.
Accordingly, the seventh cause of action will be dismissed.
F. Failure to Change Student Status—Eighth and Ninth Causes of Action
McInerney alleges RPI violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act when it refused
to allow him to change to “active” status and resume his education at RPI. It is undisputed
that in July 2007, plaintiff requested to reactivate his student status and that in August he
received a letter back from RPI informing him that he had failed the Doctoral Candidacy
Exam, failed to satisfy the follow up requirements with Professor Kaminski, and that he had
no faculty member to serve as his thesis advisor. Plaintiff was advised that in order to be
granted active status, he would need to propose a new research topic, propose the name of
– 14 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 14 of 17
a research advisor, propose a potential Ph.D. thesis committee, and draft a graduate plan of
study. These requirements are consistent with RPI requirements for all Ph.D. candidates.
Because McInerney failed to comply with the conditions for reinstatement to the program,
RPI was under no obligation to change his status to “active.” As previously explained,
plaintiff terminated his student-advisor relationship with the two professors qualified in his
thesis area and thus RPI required that he propose a new research topic.
Dean Gerhardt’s October 2007 follow-up letter to plaintiff’s attorney explained that
RPI was not requiring plaintiff to submit an application, but instead was asking for a proposal
which would assist the faculty in determining McInerney’s academic readiness to return to the
program with a realistic chance to complete the degree. Dean Gerhardt advised: “The main
issue here is that Rensselaer faculty assessed Mr. McInerney’s overall academic
performance in his doctoral program and found it unsatisfactory, but had given him an
opportunity to rectify weaknesses. Rensselaer faculty alone evaluate a student’s work and
academic progress.” Def.’s Ex. 23. RPI, as an academic institution, made decisions
regarding plaintiff’s achievements and progress, or lack thereof, in the Ph.D. program and
those decisions will not be second guessed in the absence of evidence of discrimination.
“When reviewing the substance of a genuinely academic decision, courts should accord the
faculty’s professional judgment great deference.” Powell, 364 F.3d at 88 (citing Regents of
Univ. of Mich. v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985)). By failing to meet RPI’s requirements for
reinstatement, plaintiff did not present evidence showing he was qualified to continue to be a
Ph.D. student at RPI. McInerney has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that RPI discriminated against him in violation of the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act him when
it failed to change his student status to “active.”
– 15 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 15 of 17
Therefore, the eighth and ninth causes of action will be dismissed.
Title III and the Rehabilitation Act do not require a defendant to provide a plaintiff
with his ideal or preferred accommodation. Rather, the statutes require that an individual
with a disability be provided a reasonable accommodation so that he or she may participate
equally in the good, service, or benefit offered by the place of public accommodation. RPI
was not required to accommodate plaintiff’s every preference. It was not required to expand
its faculty or make adjustments to its policies, particularly after it determined that plaintiff was
not meeting its academic requirements. RPI provided plaintiff extended time in which to take
exams, tailored his Oral Department Qualifying Exam in a manner which best accommodated
his needs, and granted him breaks as requested during his Doctoral Qualifying Exam. That
is not to say that RPI could not have done more. It is certainly not a model for other schools
in this case. It is clear from the record that plaintiff was difficult to work with and was not well
liked by some at RPI. As a result, his interactions with professors and administrators were
likely more strained than those of other students. However, plaintiff has not proven by a
preponderance of the evidence that he was denied the opportunity to participate in or benefit
from RPI’s services, programs, or activities, or was otherwise discriminated against by RPI,
by reason of his disability.
Therefore, it is
All of plaintiff’s claims are DISMISSED and the complaint is DISMISSED in its
The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
– 16 –
Case 1:05-cv-01267-DNH-CFH Document 153 Filed 10/11/13 Page 16 of 17
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: October 11, 2013
Utica, New York.