Deaf Man Sues PNWU for Pulling His Acceptance

A Utah man is suing Pacific Northwest University Medical School in Yakima. He was all set to attend the school - but then his acceptance was withdrawn. He says the school won't accommodate him because he's deaf.

Zach Featherstone has wanted to help deaf medical patients for as long as he can remember. He was set to come to Yakima continuing his schooling after graduating with a bachelors from BYU. Zach was accepted into Pacific Northwest University’s program in February of 2013 and was set to start classes that August. In June however, he received information that his admittance to the school was being deferred..

“The reason given, was to provide the university with more time to find qualified interpreters and auxiliary aids,” said Emily Teplin Fox, who is representing Featherstone.

In April of this year, Zach received a surprising letter from the university which stated he could not come to school there.

“What their letter to Mr. Featherstone said is that the presence of qualified interpriters would threaten patients safety and disrupt the learning experience of other students, the university is just wrong on both points,” said Teplin Fox

Now Zach has teamed up with two law offices, and the National Association of the Deaf to sue the school and fight for his admittance immediately this fall-- at the same time the legal battle would unfold in court. We had an email conversation with Mr. Featherstone, he still wants to attend the university and explained to me the effect this situation has had on his life.

When I asked about the day he was admitted he said:

“I had sweated, hoped and prayed to get admitted. When I got the voice mail telling me I had been accepted I was with my Dad. He interpreted the voice message for me and we both cried. It was a great moment in my life.”

Zach had prepared to move his family up to Yakima, he broke his lease, and resigned from his job all in anticipation of starting school. When he was deferred for a year he said it was very tough on his wife and two year-old daughter. They lived in a family member’s basement and Zach picked up part time jobs to get by.

Then came the April letter:

“My first reaction to that letter in April was confusion. I was in shock; I was trying so hard to comprehend what they were telling me. After a few hours, I just broke down. It was devastating. I had worked so hard to get to this point and then they take it away from me… It was devastating but I resolved that I wouldn’t quit. Not when I was that close,” wrote Featherstone

In it’s letter the school writes that it put together a “university-wide committee to investigate our ability to provide the necessary accommodations that [Featherstone] would need in order for us to provide you with an equivalent education with respect to your peers.”

The school referred to patient safety, rapid-response environment, time sensitive medical management and communication.

In conclusion the school states “We have made an exhaustive, good faith effort in attempting to find solutions to your accommodation needs. We cannot in good conscience allow you to begin a journey that all our research supports will not be successful.”

School President Keith Watson tells us the decision was made with careful consideration and that the school will not have any further comment due to the pending litigation

However to Zach, he thinks they are not giving him a chance, he said:

“I am the same person they admitted-I want to begin my education, become a top-notch doctor, and serve the deaf community.”

“There are hundreds of deaf medical professionals all over the country over a hundred deaf doctors, who all made it through their programs and are serving patients without incident,” said Teplin Fox

The first court hearing in this case will be in Yakima on July 22nd. Featherstone is seeking undisclosed financial damages ---We did ask him why not just go to another school, but he says he wants to go to PNWU because of its emphasis on serving underserved populations.