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A university was justified in relying on its team physician's advice and refusing to let a football player who had suffered a heat stroke and subsequently underwent a liver transplant return to the team, says an appeals court in reversing a lower court ruling.
Gavin Class, a student at Towson University in Baltimore, collapsed from heat stroke while practicing with the college's football team in August 2011, according to last week's November 13 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Gavin Class v. Towson University.
Mr. Class was in a coma for nine days and underwent more than a dozen surgical procedures, including a liver transplant, according to the ruling. Because of his liver transplant, he has a weakened abdominal wall, which “places his internal organs at risk of injury,” according to the ruling.
After recovering, Mr. Class applied to the university to return to play football, but the team physician refused to approve it, stating he could not safely participate. She said he had not shown sufficient heat tolerance to play outdoors in seasonal heat.
Mr. Class filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, charging that the football program had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and that he could return to playing football with reasonable accommodations that included abdominal padding and monitoring his internal temperature.
In July 2015, the District Court ruled Towson had discriminated against Mr. Class on the basis of his disability and issued an order enjoining the university from violating Mr. Class' rights under the ADA.
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit unanimously overturned that ruling. “Class' proposed accommodation would require Towson University's team physician to allow Class to play football and supervise his participation when, in her medical judgment, she has concluded that he should not be playing football under the circumstances,” said the ruling.
The “team physician's judgment and derivatively, Towson University's judgment to reject Class' proposed accommodations, were not unreasonable in the context of the risks,” said the panel.
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