Cook County Record

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Appeals court affirms ruling for Indiana University in former dental student's discrimination case


By Karen Kidd | Jun 26, 2019

The campus of Indiana University |

 A student who alleged Indiana University discriminated against her when she was required to retake her entire first year curriculum at the university's dental school recently lost her appeal because she couldn't prove she was treated different from than other students.

In its seven-page June 17 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's dismissal of the discrimination case in favor of the university, agreeing that discovery disputes about her classmates' demographics had been properly resolved.

Plaintiff Catherine Wanko, described in the appeals court's decision as "a naturalized United States citizen from Cameroon," began her dental studies at Indiana University during fall 2014. In her lawsuit, Wanko also alleged racial discrimination was behind dismissal from the university in 2016.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the U.S. District Court for Indiana's Southern District, dismissed the case on the university's motion, which Wanko did not appeal.

"In this appeal, for good reason Wanko does not contest the merits of the district court’s ruling on summary judgment," the appeals judges said in their decision. "A careful review of the record before us compels the entry of summary judgment for IU. Wanko has no evidence of a similarly situated, non-black student who received better treatment than she received."

Seventh Circuit Judge Daniel A. Manion wrote the opinion in which Judges Kenneth F. Ripple and Diane S. Sykes concurred.

Wanko was given a second summer school chance to pass one of two classes she failed during the 2014-2015 school year but was unable to meet IU's score requirements. She was told she would have to repeat the entire first year curriculum, according to the background portion of the appeals court's decision.

Wanko subsequently was dismissed from IU when she failed to complete the entire first year curriculum on her second try.

Later in 2016, Wanko sued the university, alleging discrimination based on her race and alleging that other students, who were not black but who were in a similar situation, had been promoted.

"In discovery, IU produced spreadsheets containing the demographics and grades of the students in Wanko's class," Judge Manion wrote. "Those spreadsheets showed no student, let alone one outside of a protected class, was similarly situated to Wanko."

At federal district court, Wanko filed a motion to compel production of actual student records.  JudgePratt denied that motion.

"As Wanko was unable to show a sufficient comparator for her discrimination claim, the district court granted summary judgment to IU," Judge Manion said.

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