GW responds to former student’s lawsuit

Timeline of the Cyrena Paulin case

August 2007
Cyrena Paulin enrolls at GW.

August 2010
Paulin begins final training rotation program.

Sept. 1, 2010
Former physician’s assistant program director Venetia Orcutt recommends Paulin’s dismissal from the program.

Sept. 8, 2010
Paulin informed of her proposed dismissal.

Sept. 28, 2010
Paulin appeals failing grade and dismissal.

April 28, 2011
Jeffrey Akman, interim vice provost for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, upholds Paulin’s dismissal.

Jan. 19, 2012
Paulin files lawsuit against GW.

Feb. 23, 2012
GW files legal response to Paulin’s complaint.

The University asked the U.S. District Court Thursday to drop a student’s lawsuit alleging she was unfairly dismissed from a medical program, saying it is unfounded.

Former School of Medicine and Health Sciences student Cyrena Paulin, a 53-year-old who was enrolled in the physician’s assistant program, filed a lawsuit Jan. 19 against GW after she did not receive a diploma due to a failing grade in a practical training course. She is suing for $2 million in damages.

GW rebuffed Paulin’s claim that her failing grade was the “product of ill-will and malice,” saying her complaint failed to show legal merit. The court has not yet reached a judgment on whether it will grant GW’s request to dismiss the case.

“This case is about a student who failed her program of study, was dismissed in accordance with school policies and is now complaining about her dismissal,” the University wrote in court documents.

Paulin alleged that former physician assistant program director Venetia Orcutt assigned her to a rotation that never previously handled students, leaving her without sufficient oversight from supervisors.

Orcutt resigned in November, following student complaints that she did not provide instruction for two online courses but still handed out “A” grades. The University refunded tuition for the classes, but students were allowed to keep their credits under the notion that they earned them through other program coursework.

The former student was treated in a manner consistent with GW’s grading policies, according to the University’s court response. The response said, while Paulin complained she was placed in an unfair rotation program, she “cannot point to one policy that this alleged treatment violates.”

Paulin’s academic performance was consistently poor, according to the University’s court filing.

“The University gave [the] Plaintiff multiple opportunities to improve her performance, but in the end, [the] Plaintiff was simply unable to complete the requirements for graduation,” the court documents read.

Faculty and her rotation supervisors met with Paulin prior to her dismissal, according to the documents, warning her that her performance was reaching an unacceptable level and she would need to make strides to pass.

Paulin’s complaint also alleged that the review examining her dismissal did not consider witnesses she hoped to present.

Students in suspension or dismissal cases similar to Paulin’s are unable to present additional witnesses, according to the medical school’s professional guidelines that GW included in the documents.

An independent committee formed by the University upon Paulin’s appeal of her dismissal found her behavior in the rotation “was not in a manner conformable to what is right, proper or expected,” according to the University’s filings.

Sean Malloy, Paulin’s attorney, said he had not yet fully reviewed the responses to the complaint and declined to comment, adding that he would “at the appropriate time” file a legal brief opposing GW’s request to toss the lawsuit out of court.

GW does not comment on pending litigation, University spokeswoman Jill Sankey said.

The $2 million Paulin is requesting in damages would cover her tuition, funds she would have earned if she graduated in 2010 and the difference in the annual salary earned by someone with a physician’s degree compared to an individual without such a degree.

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