BOSTON — An appeals court cleared the way Friday for a Harvard student to receive extra break time during a lengthy medical licensing exam so she can pump breast milk for her infant daughter.
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The state Appeals Court refused to overturn a decision issued by a single justice of the court last week allowing Sophie Currier, 33, an extra 60 minutes of break time.
Currier is scheduled to take the nine-hour exam over two days next week, but the National Board of Medical Examiners planned to appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court, said the board's attorney, Joseph Savage Jr.
A justice of the Judicial Court declined to hear the case last week, saying the board had to first go to the appeals court.
Currier sued after the national board said she could have only the standard 45 minutes of break time.
Last week, Judge Gary Katzmann of the Appeals Court ruled in favor of Currier, saying she needs the extra break time to pump breast milk to feed her 5-month-old baby. Katzmann said if she didn't get the extra time, she would not be on "equal footing" with men and non-lactating women who take the test.
Ignoring the need to pump could cause her significant pain, Katzmann said.
The licensing board appealed Katzmann's ruling to the full, three-judge panel of the appeals court. On Friday, the full court refused to overturn Katzmann's decision.
The court said it based its decision on whether Katzmann abused his discretion or made a clear error of law. The court said it found neither. It did not rule on the merits of the case.
The board, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit corporation, is responsible for administering the test used by boards of medicine across the country to license physicians. It has said it must be consistent in the amount of break time given to all test-takers and that other nursing mothers who have taken the exam found 45 minutes sufficient.
"Our overriding concerns are fairness to all examinees and the integrity of the exam, which serves as an important gateway to medical practice," Savage said. "Our position remains that the exam's sponsors have in no way violated Ms. Currier's rights."
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, one of Currier's attorneys, said she was "amazed" the board would continue to fight Currier's bid for extra break time.
"The test time doesn't change. We're just talking about whether she gets additional break time to express her milk," she said. "This is not about an opportunity that somehow affords any advantage."
Currier already has received special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including permission to take the test over two days instead of one. The board also offered her a separate testing room where she can express milk during the test or during break time, and the option to leave the test center to breast-feed during break times.
Currier has finished a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at Harvard University while having two babies in the past two years. She has been offered a residency in clinical pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital beginning in November but cannot accept it unless she passes the test. Her goal is a career in medical research.
She took the exam in April when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant, but failed by a few points.
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