Case Studies: Discipline Appeals

Private College Senior Successfully Appeals Final Term Suspension Ensuring Graduation

A small private college in a Rocky Mountain state charged our client, a senior expecting to graduate later that semester with a marketing degree, with falsification of university records. Our client had not intended to falsify any record but had instead attempted to follow the registrar's instructions for amending his college application to reflect the corrected address and prior education information. When the charges threatened an automatic suspension and delay of our client's graduation, our client requested an informal conference, believing that he could explain away the charges. Instead, the hearing official ignored our client's explanation and imposed an automatic suspension for the remainder of the semester. Our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to try to save his graduation. Our research indicated that the college offered an appeal of right from the suspension decision. We promptly invoked the appeal procedure for our client to schedule a timely appeal to minimize the interruption of our client's final semester. We also helped our client organize his thoughts, account, and documentation, and obtain witness statements, to present in his appeal. We further identified as appeal grounds that the initial hearing official had not considered our client's explanation or stated the factual basis and legal rationale for his conclusion to suspend our client, as the college's procedures required. Fortunately, the college's appeal official, in this case, the college's provost, granted our client's appeal and reinstated our client with no conditions. Our client completed the term and graduated as planned with a clean record enabling him to pursue career-related employment.

Graduate Student Gains Reinstatement to Doctoral Program After Appealing Plagiarism Charges

A prominent private university in the Northeastern United States charged our client, a doctoral student, with plagiarism in doctoral coursework preparatory to his dissertation thesis. The coursework required the submission of thesis proposals, outlines, bibliographies, section research, and section drafts. Our client had inadequately identified his research submissions and section drafts, leading instructors to incorrectly conclude that he had intended to submit copied research materials as his own work. The doctoral program made the initial determination of plagiarism without a full hearing and only considering our client's brief answer to the charges. The determination indicated our client's dismissal within ten days of the decision if no further action resulted. Our client then retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to try to save his doctoral program. Our research showed that the university's disciplinary procedures offered our client an appeal of the program's initial plagiarism determination. We helped our client submit a timely appeal request through a university official with whom our team had successful dealings on other cases in the past. We then helped our client fashion the appeal arguments with substantial supporting documentation. We submitted the appeal again, disclosing our representation of the client and inviting appeal inquiries through our office. Our client received a prompt notice of the appeal official's reversal of our client's discipline and dismissal of the plagiarism charge. The key to our winning appeal was the thorough analysis and documentation of our client's submissions, correcting the initial misimpressions.

High School Senior Prevails in Preserving Traditional Placement and Graduation After Discipline Appeal

A large suburban high school in a Gulf Coast state suspended our client, a senior in his last two semesters at the school and assigned our client to the district's alternative high school. The grounds included alleged erratic, disruptive, and threatening behavior related to our client's psychiatric condition. Our client and his parents had not disclosed the condition or sought disability accommodation for it, although they were aware that our client could likely have qualified for an individualized education plan, accommodation, and services. Instead, our client managed his psychiatric condition with medication and behavioral techniques. Students and staff members at the school were nonetheless generally aware of our client's condition from his eccentric tics, odd mannerisms, and rare harmless outbursts. The charges resulted from one of those harmless outbursts, unfortunately directed at a group of new students and staff members whose fears caused the school principal to overreact. When our client and his parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we promptly identified and invoked the district's discipline appeal procedures. Those procedures promised an appeal hearing before the district's board. We helped our client and his parents prepare for the appeal hearing, including obtaining and organizing witness statements, medical records, psychiatric reports, and academic records. Our appeal materials were so comprehensive that the board greeted our clients at the hearing with their preliminary decision to rescind the principal's reassignment. Board members had shared our appeal materials with the principal, who, the board indicated, agreed with the rescission. Our client returned to school to complete his senior year. The key to our winning appeal was its thorough documentation and its careful organization.

Nursing Student Successfully Defends Professionalism Charges After Winning Her Appeal

A nursing program at a large public university in the Southwest charged our client, a third-year student, with professional misconduct relating to patient communications and care. The program's disciplinary committee suspended our client on the basis of a clinical supervisor's written report, without anything more from our client than a brief answer to the vague charges. The disciplinary committee's decision notified our client that she had five business days within which to appeal her suspension to the clinical program director or other official whom the program dean appointed. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to invoke, pursue, and perfect the appeal, especially insofar as our client was confused, distracted, and depleted. We obtained from the nursing program a brief extension of the appeal deadline to ensure that our client could provide us with helpful documents and information. We also gained time to gather clinic records and witness statements made available to us on request and share those materials with a consulting expert for an opinion on the charges. We further requested that the appeal include our client's appearance for live testimony with our support and the opportunity to call and question witnesses. The appeal official approved our request, giving us the opportunity to prepare direct examination of helpful witnesses and cross-examination of adverse witnesses. Just days before the scheduled hearing, after our submission of an appeal brief and exhibits, the appeal official communicated her intent to grant our client's appeal and reinstate our client, with dismissal of all charges. Although our client did not need the appeal hearing we had requested, our presentation in preparation for that hearing carried the day.

Medical Student Expunges Discipline for Academic Misconduct After Winning His Appeal

A medical school at a large public university in the Southeastern United States disciplined our client, a second-year student, for alleged academic misconduct. The school based the discipline, which was no more than a written reprimand entered on our client's school record, on an instructor's report that our client had offered several other students study resources he had prepared and model responses to practice scenarios he had drafted. The instructor maintained that our client's offers violated a restriction he had announced in class. Although the discipline did not directly affect our client's education, he retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to seek the reversal and expungement of the discipline records so that they did not affect his future education, licensure, practice, and employment. Our research disclosed that our client had an appeal of right from any discipline and that the appeal of a reprimand would go to the school official directing the program in which the misconduct had allegedly occurred. That official was the medical school's dean of faculty. We helped our client prepare an appeal showing the dean of faculty that although the instructor said he announced his no-collaboration policy in class, our client had either not been present or had not heard or understood the announcement. The instructor did not specify at what time or in which class he had allegedly made the announcement. Our appeal included accounts from other students indicating confusion over the instructor's policy. Our appeal resulted in the dean of faculty removing the written discipline, dismissing the charge, and expunging all discipline records as our client had sought.

Medical Resident Successfully Appeals Non-Renewal of Residency Placement

A medical program at a large public university in a Western state placed our client, one of its most outstanding graduates, at a nearby medical facility, where the graduate completed most of her first year of residency. Toward the end of that year, our client received poor clinical evaluations from a male supervising physician who had invited our client to social events. Our client had declined those invitations, aware that other residents had accepted and questioned her wisdom in declining. Our client reasonably concluded that her poor evaluations were retaliatory for her declining the male physician's social invitations. Our client declined to report her concerns to the program director, hoping that the poor evaluations would not affect her retention. Unfortunately, the program review panel, which included the male physician, determined not to renew her residency contract for its second year. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to pursue an appeal of that non-renewal to the program director. Our appeal preparations included obtaining clinic records, other strong positive evaluations, and our consulting nursing expert's review of and report on the evaluations. Our appeal brief also challenged the non-renewal for not specifying its grounds sufficiently to enable our client's review and challenge. Finally, our appeal brief included our client's concerns over the male panel member's social invitations, her declining those invitations, the subsequent poor evaluations, and the physician's bias in sitting on her review panel. We also requested student statements and testimony on their experience with the male physician around those social invitations and events, to determine any sexual basis. The program director contacted our client before the appeal hearing date, indicating that the panel had on its own reversed its non-renewal decision without explanation. Our client resumed her residency the following year without further issues. Coincidentally or not, the program no longer employed the male physician as a resident supervisor.

Undergraduate Student's Successful Appeal Avoids Substantial Community Service Hours as Discipline

A prominent state university in the capital of a Midwestern state charged our client, an undergraduate student in her sophomore year, with behavioral misconduct relating to a dormitory party resulting in property damage. The university's student affairs director had seen that disciplinary officials charged all students assigned to that dormitory floor, maintaining that none of the students had reported the party as it got out of hand so that all students were equally responsible. Because the disciplinary official offered all students community service as “voluntary” discipline, most of the charged students, responsible or not, accepted. The disciplinary official then imposed double the number of community service hours as “involuntary” discipline on the students, including our client, who had rejected or failed to timely accept the resolution offer. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we confirmed from research into the university's published discipline procedures that our client had an appeal of right to the university's vice president of student affairs. Our appeal included our client's account and roommate accounts that our client had remained in her dorm room studying or sleeping during that part of the party that had gotten out of hand. Our appeal memorandum also cited case law suggesting the unconstitutionality of presumptive punishments for an entire group of students, some members of which may have been innocent and increased punishments for students who exercised their procedural rights. An appeal hearing designee granted our client's appeal and dismissed the charges, relieving our client of all community service hours and clearing her school record of any discipline.

Student Avoids Suspension for Behavioral Misconduct After Appeal of Jurisdictional Issue

A private college serving mostly students of working families in an agricultural region of a Central Plains state charged our client with violations of state law and suspended our client from the college pending further notice. Our client had suffered a misdemeanor conviction back home as a minor in possession of alcohol. The criminal court had accepted a plea that would expunge our client's court record of the conviction after a short period of satisfying conditions. The conviction had no relationship with our client's college attendance or activities, as the conduct all occurred on vacation break while back at home. Our client's parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to challenge his suspension so that he could return to school and get off the farm. Our research into the college's discipline procedures confirmed that our client had an appeal of right to the college's dean of students. Our research of the college's policies and state law further confirmed that the college could not discipline a student for conduct occurring off campus and unrelated to college activities unless the conduct represented a threat of physical harm or endangerment to members of the college community. We helped our client timely invoke the college's appeal procedures. Our appeal brief admitted the misdemeanor conviction but challenged the policy basis and state law basis for the college punishing conduct that had no relationship to college activities and was not endangering. The dean of students granted our client's appeal, dismissed the charges, and reinstated our client from suspension. Our client promptly returned to the college to continue his studies toward graduation.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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