'U' settles case with former Dental School student

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published November 1, 2009

University officials have settled out of court with a former Dental School student who says she was wrongfully dismissed from the school.

A settlement was reached outside of court last week after University officials dropped an appeal of a ruling that ordered the University to pay the former student more than $1.7 million. The amount of the settlement has not been disclosed.

In May 2006, Alissa Zwick, a former Dental School student, filed two lawsuits against the University after being dismissed from the University in her third year of study. Zwick claimed she had been caught in a turf war between a Dental School administrator and several faculty members over how to accommodate her attention deficit disorder.

The associate dean of the Dental School told Zwick she was expelled from the Dental School because she wasn’t fit to practice dentistry. At the time of her expulsion, Zwick had a B average.

Zwick’s lawsuits claimed her expulsion was a violation of free speech, due process, breach of contract and defamation. The cases, filed in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Claims, were consolidated and sent to a U.S. District Court for judgment.

After the University filed a motion to have the case dismissed, all claims were dropped except Zwick’s due process claim.

The case went to trial in federal court and in December 2008 the jury awarded Zwick $220,000 in economic damages, $500,000 in non-economic damages and $1 million in punitive damages. The University was also ordered to pay approximately $320,000 for Zwick’s legal expenses.

The University began an appeal after the verdict was issued, which was dropped as a result of last week’s settlement. As part of the settlement, both parties are asking the court to erase the earlier verdict in favor of the settlement agreement.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed that the appeal had been dropped and that a settlement had been reached.

“The matter has been resolved and the earlier court judgment has been vacated,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald refused further comment, saying he wasn’t permitted to comment on the details of the settlement or any other specifics of the case.

Deborah Gordon, Zwick’s attorney, told the Associated Press Friday that she was not allowed to comment on the details of the settlement.

“I am only allowed to say the case has been resolved,” Gordon said.

Details of the settlement have not yet been filed with the Court.

Zwick no longer studies dentistry, despite having been accepted to eight other dental schools before enrolling at Michigan. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in Speech Pathology at Eastern Michigan University.