University of Michigan Pays $1 Million to Settle Student’s Dismissal Lawsuit

November 17, 2009

The University of Michigan is paying $1 million to settle a lawsuit with a former dental student who claimed she was illegally kicked out of school, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

The AP reported a settlement on Oct. 30, but the university and Alissa Zwick’s lawyer had refused to talk about it, citing a confidentiality clause. The five-page agreement was obtained under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

Zwick sued dental school faculty members over her dismissal and won a $1.7 million verdict last year in federal court in Detroit. She claimed her due-process rights were violated when she was booted in 2005 after her third year.

The university was appealing the jury’s award when it reached a deal with Zwick to settle the dispute.

The $1 million agreement breaks down this way: $673,262.45 for Zwick and $326,737.55 for her lawyer, Deborah Gordon.

Zwick is getting far less than the amount the jury awarded her, but she took the settlement because there was a risk that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would rule for the faculty, throw out the verdict and leave her with nothing.

“The appellate process is long and arduous. There are always advantages to an earlier resolution,” Gordon said Friday. “In general, having one’s day in court and having a jury return a verdict is often a large part of the desired result.”

A message seeking comment was left with the university.

Zwick said she was a ‘B’ student but was dismissed and told she wasn’t performing well in clinical classes.

Zwick claimed she was a victim of a feud between the dental school’s chief academic officer, Dr. Marilyn Lantz, and other faculty members over ways to accommodate her attention-deficit disorder during exams.

Two professors were forced out, stirring controversy, and Lantz tried to deflect responsibility for their departure onto Zwick, according to the lawsuit. The university has denied wrongdoing and admits no liability in the settlement.

Zwick, 31, gave up dentistry and enrolled in a master’s program in speech pathology at Eastern Michigan University.

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