OK for Law School to Consider Whether “Students Possess the Mental and Emotional Stability to Join the Bar”

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From yesterday’s opinion by Judge P.K. Holmes, III in Doe v. Bd. of Trustees for Univ. of Ark.:

The Court concludes that the Law School’s need to certify its students’ character and fitness is a “business necessity” which is “vital to the business” of running a law school. As discussed above, the fundamental “business” of a law school is to produce lawyers. When a law graduate seeks to become a lawyer, a law school must certify that graduate’s character and fitness to the relevant state bar in order for the bar admissions process to go forward. Therefore, the Law School’s ability to certify the character and fitness of its graduates is integral to its central purpose of allowing those graduates to become lawyers—in other words, “vital to the business.”

Further, the Law School had “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to doubt” whether Doe’s apparent mental instability would be compatible with her chosen profession. The record in this case discloses that Doe assertively pressed her claims of harassment with many professors and administrators at the Law School, including a federal judge, demanding that they use their authority to intervene in the harassment. This is a legitimate basis for [Law School Associate Dean of Student Success] Pollvogt’s concern that Doe might not be able to interact professionally with court personnel, especially if she perceived this harassment in a courthouse.

Perhaps more importantly, Doe’s mention of the weapon manipulating her cognitive state and impairing her ability to study would have been legitimate grounds for concern about Doe’s ability to soundly advise her clients and perform legal research tasks. Given the foregoing, the examination was job-related and consistent with business necessity.

An excerpt from Doe’s allegations:

Doe indicates that she began to experience harassment during the spring semester of her first year at the Law School. She describes groups of “three or four individuals … reenact[ing] something painful or traumatic” that she or her family had experienced. She also describes being followed by groups of people even during times of low foot traffic and after detouring to out-of-the-way, unoccupied areas. Some of these individuals, she states, looked “identical” to people she knew and acted “in an aggressive manner that seems to be designed to provoke an allegation on my part.”.

By August of 2021, the harassment had escalated to include “use of electric weapons that targeted my genitals, targeted my dog, targeted my devices like my phone, my computer, my key fob.” She characterized the weapons at issue as being banned in several states and as being “silent. They are invisible. They are used to incapacitate a person. They can traverse brick walls [and] concrete.”

Doe purports to be familiar with “a lot of literature specific to the use of these weapons by mental health workers …. to identify individuals who suffer from mental illness but are undiagnosed or undertreated and present a threat to the community. So if you’re hit with one of these lasers or weapons and you’re already mentally unstable, then it could cause an episodic break, and that would allow the authorities to document the break.” Doe says that the device seems to have various settings, ranging from annoying to painful to sexually stimulating.

On August 30, 2021, Doe e-mailed three of her professors to let them know that she would likely be unprepared for class, including being unable to turn in one assignment. In these e-mails, she described “debilitating harassment and abuse” which “negates any reasonable opportunity to read, comprehend, or complete assignments.” Doe claimed that she was unable to contact the authorities for help because she had no proof the abuse was happening. Despite the e-mail, Doe ultimately completed her assignment on time.

A few days later, Doe sent more e-mails to various faculty members. In one, she claimed that she was “sexually violated and stimulated” during a standardized test, voicing suspicions that those responsible had accessed the test database to artificially increase her score afterwards. Another described the profound impact of the harassment on her day-to-day life, her fear that the perpetrator was “embedded with or aligned to the police,” and her hope that the faculty (including one federal district judge) could intervene on her behalf to keep the perpetrators from accessing her residence and vehicle….

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