Three students suing the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Monroe say the medical school violated a federal judge’s restraining order by continuing to discriminate against them for choosing to forgo getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
In July, Rachel Magliulo, of Ouachita Parish, as well as Matthew Willis and Kirsten Hall, of Lincoln Parish sued VCOM in the U.S. District Court for the Western District. Last week. U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty, of Rayville, granted a temporary restraining order protecting the students from retaliation and discrimination based on their decision to seek a vaccination exemption on religious grounds.
In the time since the students filed the lawsuit, VCOM granted Magliulo, Willis and Hall a vaccination exemption. The medical school also has denied discriminating against the students.
The students’ contention in a motion for sanctions against VCOM, filed Monday, centered on a “passive aggressive” email to the student body at the medical school. VCOM operates its medical school on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
The email in question was written by Nathan Kinnard, VCOM’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Development.
In his email sent on Aug. 20, Kinnard said he wanted to dispel some rumors and “false narratives,” though he said he would avoid speaking directly about the lawsuit.
“The Covid-19 Committee at VCOM had granted exemptions for the students prior to receiving the temporary restraining order, so we are puzzled as to what there is to gain from the lawsuit now,” Kinnard’s email stated. “We have not found any matter where this law has been enforced or challenged prior, so there is some uncertainty as to what, if any, changes will be needed.”
In their motion for sanctions, the students argued Kinnard’s email was not surprising.
“That he would do it in defiance of this Honorable Court’s TRO (temporary restraining order) is,” stated the students’ motion. “Mr. Kinnard has been the chief antagonist to the Students since this entire ordeal began.”
According to the students, Kinnard has “repeatedly doubled-down” on his position with the three students and stooped to using threats, intimidation and improper tactics.
“Mr. Kinnard has clearly taken this Honorable Court’s TRO as an attack on his authority and he clearly does not intend to sit idly by and let that authority be eroded,” stated the students’ motion for sanctions. “There was no legitimate basis for Mr. Kinnard’s email. The passive-aggressive tone, his continued discrimination of the Students, his belittling and undermining of their position serves no useful purpose other than to attempt to turn the student body against them. Likewise, his admonition to the student body not to act in an unprofessional manner towards the Students is disingenuous at best. Mr. Kinnard’s email does nothing more than sow the seeds for this discontent.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, VCOM had not responded to the students’ filing but provided a statement to The Ouachita Citizen.
“VCOM has not and will not retaliate against the VCOM students,” stated VCOM. “The allegations raised in this most recent filing lack merit. VCOM granted the student waivers to the vaccine on 8/6/2021.”
According to VCOM, Kinnard often sent emails to students and sent the Aug. 20 email at the request of student officers who were concerned that all students should be made aware of the medical school’s zero tolerance for retaliation against Magliulo, Willis and Hall.
“VCOM is more concerned that the continued court filings, all of which identify these students by name and are then provided to the media by their legal counsel, continuously separate these students from their classmates,” stated VCOM.
In support of their motion for sanctions, the students outlined a number of allegations supposedly involving Kinnard’s actions or statements.
For example, in one of the allegations, the students claimed, “When told that LSU Medical School was not mandating the vaccine, Mr. Kinnard responded that LSU was one of the worst medical schools in the country and he would not be surprised if it lost its federal funding this year.”
According to VCOM, there was no reason for the students to ask the court to find the medical school in contempt of the restraining order.
“In fact, to justify it, legal counsel referred to conversations alleged to have occurred in July (prior to the complaint), many of which have been mischaracterized, and none of which would apply to the order today,” VCOM stated. “The references to LSU in this memo are obviously an effort to alienate VCOM from its peer institutions. VCOM administration has met with LSU medical school administration many times and have a positive relationship.
“VCOM holds the LSU medical school in high regard, and the allegations are just an attempt by the students’ attorneys to separate VCOM from the other medical schools within the state, all of which support vaccination.”
The students’ motion for sanctions, including a reproduction of Kinnard’s email to VCOM’s body of student doctors, as well as VCOM’s statement are available online at www.ouachitacitizen.com