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By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Former medical student sues SMHS, administrators for alleged dismissal due to disability

The+School+of+Medicine+and+Health+Sciences+Ross+Hall+entrance.+
Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
The School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Ross Hall entrance.

Updated: Jan. 22, 2024, at 11:15 a.m.

A former student is suing the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and two administrators, alleging officials dismissed her from the University for disability-related symptoms after ignoring her complaints of discrimination and harassment. 

In the 35-page lawsuit filed in the D.C. District Court on Friday, Sneha Iyer — a medical school student from fall 2018 to spring 2023 — argued the school, Steven Davis, the assistant dean for student affairs for the Doctor of Medicine Program, and Nancy Gaba, the Obstetrics & Gynecology department chair, violated national discrimination laws and University policies. The lawsuit states that GW granted Iyer a hearing in March 2021 in response to complaints Davis and Gaba filed regarding her professionalism but that faculty and University officials “refused” to investigate her complaints of harassment and discriminatory behavior or her evidence against their claims, dismissing her four weeks before her graduation.

Iyer was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and ADHD, which were documented with GW Disability Support Services, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that Iyer is entitled to obtain readmission to GW’s medical school “free from discrimination,” and to an order that forbids GW from professionally, personally and academically “perpetuating” acts against her. 

Iyer, who is represented by the Bach Law Firm based out of Las Vegas, seeks at least $75,000 for general and compensatory damages and at least $75,000 in punitive damages. 

She is requesting a trial by jury for all allegations against SMHS, Davis and Gaba. 

Iyer alleged SMHS failed to investigate her reports of discrimination and correct the actions of faculty mistreating her on the basis of her disability, which breached the GW Student Handbook’s policy on discrimination and the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing — which assures both parties act fairly and in good faith with one another. 

“GW’s discriminatory actions were taken solely because of Ms. Iyer’s disability, including her disability-related symptoms and her filing complaints against GW faculty who exacerbated her symptoms due to their abuse and harassment,” the lawsuit states. 

Davis, Gaba, the University and Iyer’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Iyer said officials breached contract by violating SMHS’s Mistreatment Policy, which prohibits GW employees or the Medical Faculty Associates from mistreating students or retaliating against an individual who reports mistreatment. She said she faced “pervasive discrimination” from GW faculty after she filed complaints against Davis and Gaba. 

The lawsuit also states that SMHS, Davis and Gaba violated her rights as protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by submitting letters of concern on the basis of disability-related symptoms. 

The lawsuit states that in October 2020, Iyer missed classes and psychiatry rotations with doctor’s notes documenting her illnesses but received complaints about her “professionalism,” including one from another student, at the end of 2020. 

In March 2021, SMHS’s Subcommittee on Honor and Professionalism held a hearing for the complaints and voted to suspend Iyer for one year and have her repeat her third year. The SMHS senior associate dean at the time overturned the subcommittee’s decision when it was appealed but required Iyer to repeat three rotations she never completed, the lawsuit states. 

Iyer failed the second half of her internal medicine rotation — one of the rotations she was required to repeat — for missed class despite receiving excused absences for a COVID-19 diagnosis, according to the filing. The lawsuit states that GW’s clerkship director admitted that she failed to inform Iyer’s attending physicians that she had COVID-19, leading to the unexcused absences. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Davis sexually and emotionally harassed Iyer during a meeting in September 2022. Davis allegedly told Iyer she looked like a woman he was formerly romantically involved with and later swore at her in the meeting and told her there was “no way” her father was proud of her. 

The lawsuit states that Gaba changed Iyer’s OB-GYN rotation grade from passing to conditional for “insufficient clinical time” in November 2022, despite her receiving passing evaluations from all three evaluators, including Gaba, in October. Iyer alleged that in November, she suffered a “psychiatric crisis” and had a panic attack as a result of Gaba’s actions, causing her to miss a residency interview. 

In late November and early December 2022, Iyer learned that Gaba filed two separate letters of concern about her “professionalism” in September and October for missed classes and assignments, the filing states. Iyer said she presented doctor’s notes for her absences and extensions for her assignments; after Gaba asked to contact her daughter, she told him she did not want Gaba to reach out to her doctor for more information because she was uncomfortable divulging private medical information. 

Davis filed a letter of concern accusing Iyer of lying about another student’s death as a reason for missing an interview in December 2022, according to the lawsuit. The filing states that a doctor had confirmed that a separate student had gone missing in the summer of 2022 and did not return until December of that year and that Iyer and other friends were worried about that incident. 

The filing states that in January 2023, letters of concern were sent to GW about Gaba and Davis’s alleged mistreatment of Iyer but doesn’t specify who sent them. A letter from Iyer’s psychiatrist, Andreea Seicean, stated that Iyer’s anxiety symptoms had become worse because of multiple interactions with Gaba from September 2022 to November 2022 which allegedly included Gaba yelling at Iyer and berating her in front of other staff and trainees. 

Seicean said Iyer’s condition met the definition of a disability and that her alleged experiences with David and Gaba worsened her symptoms. 

Iyer is currently a resident physician in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, according to her Doximity page, and an MBA candidate at Georgetown University, according to her LinkedIn. The lawsuit states that Iyer continues to suffer from “great mental and emotional harm,” including anxiety and depression and loss of “personal and professional reputation.” 

She now awaits her request for a trial by jury. 

This post has been updated to include additional context from the filing.

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