Expelled dental student awarded $1.7 million in lawsuit against 'U'

BY LINDY STEVENS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 2, 2008

Former School of Dentistry student Alissa Zwick was awarded $1.72 million in a lawsuit with the University yesterday.

Claiming she was forced to leave the Dental School without cause in 2005, Zwick filed the suit in May 2006 after Marilyn Lantz, associate dean of the Dental School, and three instructors claimed she was unfit to practice dentistry.

During the 13-day federal trial in Detroit, Zwick’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, presented evidence that Lantz encouraged dental school faculty to write letters outlining their concerns about Zwick, which led to her dismissal.

Among the concerns cited by the faculty members were tantrums, behavior problems and poor performance in clinical classes. Zwick was officially dismissed during her third year at the school in June 2005.

According to court documents, Zwick claimed she was “retaliated against” for exercising her First Amendment rights and also alleged that her dismissal violated due process of law.

Zwick did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday evening.

Although students recommended for dismissal from the school are subject to an appeal process, Gordon said the decision was unfair.

“Once you’re admitted to a public school, you have a property interest,” Gordon told The Associated Press yesterday. “You can’t be dismissed without due process. The jury found the decision was not careful or deliberate.”

Zwick claimed the lawsuit stemmed from an incident involving two faculty members who fought her request to take exams in a separate setting to accommodate her attention deficit disorder.

According to the lawsuit, Lantz forced the two involved faculty members to resign and used the incident to pursue Zwick’s dismissal.

In her case, Zwick also cited breach of contract, defamation and “infliction of emotional distress,” by Lantz and the other faculty members involved in the suit.

The University will likely pay $1 million in punitive damages, even though Lantz was listed in the suit as the primary defendant.

Lantz declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by phone yesterday evening.

In a written statement to The Associated Press yesterday, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham defended the School of Dentistry’s decision to dismiss Zwick.

“The university has a responsibility to exercise careful and deliberate judgment about who should be permitted to graduate from its professional schools and practice in the health care professions,” Cunningham said.

“It is essential that we maintain control over academic decision-making and we stand firm in that position,” she added.

Gordon and attorneys for Lantz and the University could not be reached for comment late yesterday evening.

Zwick, now 30, is currently enrolled at Eastern Michigan University, pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology. Before starting at the School of Dentistry at the University of Michigan, Zwick was accepted to eight other dental schools. After her dismissal from the University, she was denied acceptance to other dental programs.

—Associated Press contributed this report.