WORCESTER – A man who says he is a student at UMass Medical School is suing the institution, alleging administrators wouldn’t allow him an accommodation for his formaldehyde allergy during anatomical coursework.
Vishal Saxena, a 46-year-old Marlboro resident who was born in India, also accuses the school of not doing anything about the race- and age-based harassment he alleges he was subjected to from fellow medical students and staff at UMass.
He filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Worcester on Monday, according to court records.
Mr. Saxena, who began attending the medical school in 2014, says in his complaint he suffers from a severe reaction to formaldehyde, which causes him symptoms like difficulty breathing, severe coughing, blurred vision, and disorientation.
The chemical is commonly used to preserve cadavers for educational use, however, including at UMass, his complaint says. But when Mr. Saxena requested an accommodation for his condition, he says, the medical school repeatedly rebuffed him, even after he later supplied diagnoses from two physicians.
“There are a variety of safe and affordable alternatives to using cadavers preserved in formaldehyde,” his complaint says. “The same educational objectives can be achieved safely using frozen cadavers, virtual techniques, plastic cadavers, online course work and other methods.”
UMass asked Mr. Saxena to wear a hazmat suit into anatomy classes instead, however, according to the suit – an accommodation he was unwilling to accept. He argued the suit would be too hot and potentially dangerous, as well as ultimately ineffective as protection from the formaldehyde in the room, and prevent him from effectively interacting in the class.
Unable to complete his anatomy training, Mr. Saxena says in the complaint, he was not able to continue his education.
After more than a year of back-and-forth with UMass superiors – some of whom he also accuses of mistreating and misleading him – Mr. Saxena was eventually informed by medical school leadership in 2015 that it had recommended he not continue his studies at UMass. But his subsequent efforts to find another medical school were also ignored and eventually stymied by medical school administrators, he says in the suit.
“As a result, Dr. Saxena has lost almost 3 years of anticipated wages, which continue to grow as he is unemployable until he graduates,” the complaint says.
Mr. Saxena accuses UMass of violating age and race/national origin discrimination and retaliation laws in Massachusetts, and of violating federal disability protection laws. He is seeking to be awarded an unspecified amount of damages, as well as granted accommodation to complete his medical training.
In a statement, UMass said it had not yet been served with the complaint and thus had no comment Wednesday.