A former UC San Diego student lost a disability discrimination suit against the Regents of the State of California on December 15, 2017.
Shahram Jazirian sued the UC Regents in late April of 2017, claiming UCSD neglected to provide him with the necessary accommodations needed to meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) and led to him being denied the financial aid he needed. Judge Joan Lewis ruled in favor of the Regents, reasoning that Jazirian was unable to meet academic requirements and failed to provide proper documentation for the accommodations requested.
In spring of 2012, Jazirian applied and was accepted to UCSD and attended Warren College from 2012 to 2015. He was diagnosed by UCSD Counseling and Psychological Services Postdoctoral Fellow Marybeth Rigali-Oiler and Dr. Laura Vleugels with major depression and PTSD in fall of 2013. However, the letter he needed to obtain from Dr. Oiler was denied to him by Dr. Oiler herself, preventing him from receiving his needed accommodations.
In October of 2015, it was announced to the Financial Aid staff that Jazirian would no longer be attending UCSD. Dina Skinner, a counselor at the Financial Aid office, responded saying the new code name for Jazirian was “Michael Myers,” in reference to the infamous Halloween villain.
“In regards to the mental health providers’ actions, it is ableist to blackmail a disabled student into treatment by withholding resources from them,” said Mati Kuss, co-founder of #WeAre3D, the UC Student Association campaign to “increase awareness of and advocate for the allocation of resources to disabled, chronically ill, and neurodivergent students on UC campuses.”
“The email evidence of staff referring to Sahram by a demonizing ‘code name’ is troubling to say the least…” said Kuss. “Those of us who live with chronic mental illness are already facing stigma from society; why should we face further stigma from the people who are hired to help us?”
According to Lewis’ ruling, the Regents did not violate Title ll of the ADA because Jazirian failed to take the steps necessary to receive his accommodations and because they deemed Jazirian an “unqualified individual.”
“What is also clear from the evidence is that the University made every effort to help Jazirian to try to reach his goals and it was only through Jazirian’s contentious, obstructive behavior and obstinance that he failed to succeed,” Lewis wrote.
The Regents argued that Jazirian did not provide the necessary documentation proving his disability to receive the accommodations and failed to sustain a decent workload and GPA, therefore making him unqualified. They also stated they never entered into any contract with Jazirian via email, as he claimed.
The Regents also contend that Jazirian was not a “qualified individual” for a disability discrimination charge, given that he was unable to meet the university’s academic standards, despite the accommodations he was granted and requested. A “qualified individual” is defined as “one who is able to meet program requirements in spite of their handicap, with or without accommodations.” According to the case file, Jazirian also made several requests for exceptions to the rules and was still unable to maintain progress.
Neither the University, nor the attorneys that represented them, had any further comments on the case or its results. According to one of Jazirian’s attorney’s, Omid Rejali, Jazirian is considering filing an appeal on his case.
As for Kuss, who plans to continually advocate against disability discrimination across the UC system, believes that cases like this only exemplify the UC’s ability to out-lawyer struggling students.
“These experiences are not uncommon. Shahram’s experience is not uncommon. The UC just doesn’t want disabled students to tell our stories,” said Kuss.
Matthew Rom-Toribio is a contributing writer at The Triton.