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United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
September 14, 2022, Argued; November 4, 2022, Decided
AGEE, Circuit Judge:
After East Carolina University ("ECU") dismissed Olivia Neal from its School of Social Work's Master's Degree program, Neal sued the university alleging that its decision discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). See 42 U.S.C. § 12132; see also ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment to ECU based on its conclusion that Neal failed to come forward with evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact to support two elements of a prima facie case of discrimination. It determined that the record did not show that (1) she was "otherwise qualified to [*2] participate in ECU's" program or (2) ECU dismissed her "on the basis of" her disability. Neal v. Univ. of N.C., No. 5:17-CV-186-BR, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177360, 2020 WL 5775145, at *6-7 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 28, 2020). Neal challenges both grounds on appeal. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the district court's judgment in favor of ECU.
To begin we provide a brief overview of the law governing ADA discrimination claims in the context of collegiate studies. ] Title II of the ADA prohibits public universities such as ECU from excluding individuals from their programs "by reason of" their physical or mental disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Plaintiffs can prove their claim by pointing to direct evidence of discrimination or, more commonly, by using the three-step analysis established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). This burden-shifting analysis requires a plaintiff first to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination. Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affs. v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981). Once a plaintiff meets that initial burden, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that its decision was made "for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason," and if that hurdle is crossed, then the presumption of discrimination is rebutted and the burden returns to the plaintiff to prove that the university's proffered reason was pretext for discrimination. [*3] Id. at 253.
] To state a prima facie case of ADA discrimination in the context of a university's academic programs, a "plaintiff must establish that (1) [s]he has a disability, (2) [s]he is otherwise qualified to participate in the defendant's program, and (3) [s]he was excluded from the program on the basis of h[er] disability." Halpern v. Wake Forest Univ. Health Scis., 669 F.3d 454, 461 (4th Cir. 2012) (footnote omitted).
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2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 30685 *; 53 F.4th 130
OLIVIA NEAL, Plaintiff — Appellant, v. EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY, Defendant — Appellee, and UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant.
Prior History: [*1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. (5:17-cv-00186-BR). W. Earl Britt, Senior District Judge.
Neal v. Univ. of N.C., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177360, 2020 WL 5775145 (E.D.N.C., Sept. 28, 2020)
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Labor & Employment Law, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Burden Shifting, Disability Discrimination, Direct Evidence, Business & Corporate Compliance, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Evidence, Allocation, Education Law, Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA Coverage, Disabilities Under ADA, Mental & Physical Impairments, Major Life Activities, Scope & Definitions, Records of Impairments, ADA Compliance, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Appellate Review, Standards of Review, Judgments, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Administration & Operation, Elementary & Secondary School Boards, Authority of School Boards, Actionable Discrimination