Nursing Student Fails Course Twice, Sues Her University


Enrolling in a nursing school means getting through sleepless nights of studying and preparing for an exam to get high grades. Most nursing programs are demanding and rigorous from the very first day up to the last. There will also be times when a student’s effort results only to a below-the-average score which can be disheartening making many to fail the program. But if you do fail, do you think the University is liable?

A nursing student of Misericordia University in Pennsylvania thinks so as she is suing the university and some of its officials after she failed to pass a required nursing course twice.

Jennifer Burbella of Stroudsburg filed suit this month alleging Misericordia University violated the Federal Rehabilitation Act. The lawsuit included the school president Thomas J. Botzman, Cynthia Mailloux, chairwoman of the nursing department, and her nursing professor Christina Tomkins.

Burbella’s attorney, Harry McGrath, said her disabilities, including anxiety, depression, and stress, made it difficult for her to concentrate.

..her disabilities, including anxiety, depression, and stress, made it difficult for her to concentrate.

“She has some disabilities and under section 504 of The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, you can make certain accommodations, not only in educational setting, but in the workplace, et cetera,” McGrath said.

In 2010, Burbella was accepted into the school’s nursing program. According to the complaint, even before her enrollment, Burbella had an “existing predisposition” that caused anxiety and depression, and throughout her time at the university, she “experienced great anxiety as a result of her many challenges, both socially and academically, as well as medical issues with her family.”

By March 2011, Burbella was being treated at the school’s Counseling and Psychological Service Center, according to a report by CitizensVoice.

“[Burbella] struggled throughout her studies at Misericordia University, but always continued to seek a bachelor’s degree in nursing and appeared to be moving toward that goal, albeit with some average, but primarily below average grades,” McGrath said.

In spring of 2014, Burbella failed Functional Health Patterns of Adults IV, a required course that student nurses must pass with at least a C, after she did not receive any special accommodations that semester, says the lawsuit.

Burbella claims she was pressured to retake the course in a summer class beginning four days later.

Despite continuing counseling, Burbella began failing the course once more, according to the complaint.


During her final exam, the university gave Burbella some special accommodations where she was allowed more time to complete the test and could take it in a “distraction-free environment,” according to the lawsuit. Tomkins, her nursing professor, also offered to allow her to ask questions during the test.

When Burbella asked to take the exam in the same building Tomkins was administering the exam to other students, she was denied despite another disabled student was given a separate room in the same building.

According to the federal lawsuit, Burbella asked for help including extended time to complete exams, and communication with a professor during a test. During the test, Burbella repeatedly called Tomkins on her cellphone and got no response.

“Professor Tomkins’ failure to be available to [Burbella] on numerous occasions during the examination created an even more stressful environment for the student, all of which can be verified by Megan Hurley, a counselor at Misericordia University, who witnessed [Burbella] attempting to make calls to Professor Tomkins on several occasions during the exam and breaking down and crying when Tomkins did not answer,” McGrath said.

Burbella said Misericordia officials did not follow through on those things, so she failed to pass the required course, not once, but twice. In the end, she did not receive a sufficient score to pass the program and failed to graduate with a nursing degree.

McGrath said his client’s disabilities should not keep her from being a nurse.

“I think many people suffer from anxiety, depression, and those types of things who are doctors, lawyers, nurses,” said McGrath.

In the lawsuit, Burbella is seeking $75,000 in damages, but her attorney said what she wants more than anything is a chance to take the exam again.

…her attorney said what she wants more than anything is a change to take the exam again.

“She’s not looking for the university to ordain that she get this degree, she’s looking for a fair opportunity, which the statute provides, to take the exam. If she fails it that’s her own problem and she has to deal with it,” said McGrath.

Misericordia spokesman Paul Krzywicki said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

Burbella is no longer a student at Misericordia University.


Matt Vera is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing since 2009 and is currently working as a full-time writer and editor for Nurseslabs. During his time as a student, he knows how frustrating it is to cram on difficult nursing topics. Finding help online is nearly impossible. His situation drove his passion for helping student nurses by creating content and lectures that are easy to digest. Knowing how valuable nurses are in delivering quality healthcare but limited in number, he wants to educate and inspire nursing students. As a nurse educator since 2010, his goal in Nurseslabs is to simplify the learning process, break down complicated topics, help motivate learners, and look for unique ways of assisting students in mastering core nursing concepts effectively.
  • Sorry but I don’t feel she should win the lawsuit, and it should be dismissed.
    She was offered a distraction free zone and extra time, and apparently she wanted more than that. Not to sound rude but it’s not the Universities job to make sure you pass a class, they can only do their best to prepare you for it. And the accommodations for students with disabilities only need to be within reason, it doesn’t mean that the student can dictate exactly what they should get when taking a test.

  • Sadly a typical response in today’s society. If you don’t get your way…sue.
    I hope the lawsuit is dismissed. You can’t blame everything/everyone else for your failure.

  • I failed my SRN (English registration in 1970s) many years ago. We were allowed 3 attempts, at no time did I blame anyone but myself for failing. I was stressed, had every psychosomatic symptom under the sun and took prescribed meds to try to help with the problems I had. I spent 10 years as an SEN (LPN equivalent). Rules changed and I was allowed one more chance which I passed. I progressed to eventually become a Nurse Practitioner & prescriber. Anxiety pre exams is normal if this girl had severe anxiety prior to enrolling she should not have started nursing is mentally exhausting as well as physically exhausting you need to be 110% fit both mentally & physically. I hope she finds something she may be better suited to

  • THank god I’m not the only one who thinks this girl should not win this suit. This is a frivolous lawsuit if I have ever seen one. Why do people feel the need to blame everyone but themselves for their failures? Guess what that’s life and it happens!

  • Is she going to sue the first patient she kills because of he being ill and under her care stressed her out ?

  • She’s shouldn’t enroll nursing then if u think u can’t make it then follow ur instinct coz that for sure u can’t. This person just want attention blaming other for her action it’s called being irresponsible, nurse isn’t an easy task.

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