An autistic medical student has accused her university of discrimination that could end her career before it has started, after she was prevented from starting the fifth and final year of her degree.
Sarah Potts was forced to take a temporary leave of absence from the course last September, because the University of Leeds (pictured) said she was not well enough to practise as a doctor.
But she says the university took the action without any evidence that she was not fit to practise, and failed to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed to complete the course.
Its own occupational heath assessment recommended that it draw up an action plan to support her, but she says it failed to do so.
Potts says the university also failed to secure a medical report from an expert in autism; and failed to provide her with clear information about the case against her or show her the medical evidence it was relying on.
She says it also refused to make a reasonable adjustment for her by allowing a lawyer to accompany her to a hearing in front of its health and conduct committee.
And she says the university had earlier failed to make a reasonable adjustment for her by refusing to allow her a local placement rather than the residential one she was offered, a failure which caused her mental health to decline.
The university said this week that it “categorically denies” any discrimination.
But her solicitors say the university repeatedly breached the Equality Act by discriminating against her as a disabled person, and that it had no evidence that she was currently unfit to practise as a doctor.
They have also told the university that it failed to deal with her complaint about how she had been treated within a reasonable time period.
The university has rejected her appeal against its decision.
Her solicitors have now told the university that its actions were potentially “career-ending” for Potts, and that it had acted in a “muddled and haphazard way”.
They added: “The decision to dismiss our client’s appeal without obtaining credible evidence in relation to how she could have been and should have been supported, particularly when requests have been made repeatedly for it, is procedurally unfair and unsafe.”
Potts, who also has ADHD and has had experience of mental distress, is still hoping to persuade the university to allow her to take the fifth year of the course and complete her studies so she can qualify as a doctor.
A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “Supporting all students to help them achieve their potential is central to the university’s work and values.
“We have a proven track record of inclusive practice and providing support to help students reach their academic goals.
“We believe it is inappropriate to discuss the personal details of a student’s case.
“More broadly, however, we can confirm that we are satisfied that we are following due process in this particular case; that we are involving the student closely at every step; that we have disclosed full evidence and information as part of the process; and that we are acting in a timely and diligent manner.
“We categorically deny any discrimination, but the student’s concerns are subject to formal investigation.”
The university declined to clarify what this investigation process involved.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…