Irshadgul News report,
A former Memorial University student who challenged the school and a professor who refused to wear a microphone seven years ago have won their case at the Human Rights Commission for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Memorial University failed in its duty to accommodate William Sears—a hard-of-hearing student who skipped history class in 2015 after a professor told her she couldn’t wear an FM-transmitting microphone for religious reasons—by Commission according to an adjudicator appointed.
The school knew, or should have known, that the two would come into conflict over their housing needs, the judge wrote, and did not do enough to avoid the conflict.
Brody Gallant wrote, “A student with a disability, Sears was placed in conflict with a working professor who had taken power over him and denied him meaningful access to education services.”
“Ultimately Mr. Sears left the class embarrassed and humiliated. It is clear to me that he was deeply affected by the incident and feels strong emotions from these events to this day.”
Gallant awarded Sears $10,000 in damages; Memorial University is appealing the decision in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, hoping to reverse the decision and fine.
“The university believes there are errors of law in the case’s adjudicator’s analysis,” spokesman David Sorensen said in an email. “Commemorative is and continues to be committed to providing programs and services that enable students with disabilities to maximize their educational potential.”
Warning Signs Ignored: Judgment
In accordance with Gallant’s written decision, Sears regularly contacted the Blundon Center, a department at the university that works to accommodate students, before each semester to have that department talk to their new professors about wearing microphones. is called to do.
When they did so in 2015, a manager at the Blundon Center wrote to visiting professors of all students except Rani Punjabi. This was because the manager remembered that there was a “controversy” in 1996 over a similar request.
In fact, in January 1996, another university student had filed a complaint of discrimination against Punjabi for refusing to wear a microphone. The professor later signed a deal with Memorial University, which guaranteed that he would not have to wear “phonic ears” or any other device on his person.
According to Judgment, Punjabi practices a form of mysticism that focuses on “personal experience and a personal, personal search for truth”.
“According to Dr. Punjabi’s beliefs, wearing an FM transmitter on his person would cause a significant disruption and substantial interference in spiritual balance, which, according to his religion, should always prevail.”
Two days before classes began, the manager wrote to an acting director for guidance, but according to the judge, the acting director did not remember the agreement and told the manager of the Blundon Center to proceed as usual.
“It is an iceberg warning that Captain Edward Smith ignored the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic,” Gallant wrote. “This is the moment when the opportunity to engage in a fair accommodation process presented itself, and was not followed.”
Unfortunately, these changes came too late for Mr. Sears.– Brody Gallant
Gallant wrote in her ruling that Punjabi said she had not seen the two emails she had been sent, so when Sears entered her class, neither did she know there was a potential for conflict. Sears asked Punjabi to wear the microphone, and Punjabi refused, citing his consent and his religious beliefs. She offered to put a microphone on a nearby table instead, but Sears said it wasn’t enough and left the class.
Gallant wrote, “Mr. Sears and Dr. Punjabi’s decision to proceed without taking any specific steps to address potentially competing rights amounts to recklessness or willful blindness and ensures that these competing rights become conflicting rights.” “
Neither Sears nor Punjabi responded to requests for interviews about the incident. Punjabi has since retired, and Sears completed his degree in 2017.
Memorial University’s Court of Appeal states that the adjudicator’s decision failed to properly analyze the school’s obligation to balance competing rights, and did not consider whether MUN had acted in good faith.
The university and the adjudicator agreed that a number of changes have been made since 2015 to avoid similar conflicts. Those changes include a self-registration system in which students can ask for accommodations without having to contact the instructors in person.
“I am satisfied that MUN’s subsequent efforts to address deficiencies in its policies … were fair and justified,” the judge wrote. “Unfortunately these changes came too late for Mr. Sears.”
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