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Post date: October 30 2000

Medical School Dress Code Modified To Reflect Religious Observance

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has resolved a dispute between a student doctor and the medical school she attends regarding her compliance with an academic policy that she found objectionable because it was inconsistent with her Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs.

The student, Donna Loketch, of Monsey, is currently in the second year of a four-year Osteopathic Medicine Program at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. Osteopathic medicine bases much of its philosophy and method of treatment upon the manipulation of bones and muscles in order to remedy medical conditions.

Among the elements of the College of Medicine's program are practical laboratory sessions that teach diagnostic techniques and treatment methods in which students participate in the roles of doctor and patient. A required course of study is a lecture and laboratory in Applied Principles of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine which maintains a course requirement for female students that includes the wearing of open backed bathing suits, shorts and halter tops. The requirement to attend class without being fully clothed was in conflict with Ms. Loketch's religious practice of remaining modestly dressed.

"My office became actively involved in this case because I believe Ms. Loketch made a reasonable and respectful request to modify a policy which was unnecessarily rigid. Her religious convictions and desire to seek a remedy to the situation made the issue a simple matter of reasonable accommodation," said Attorney General Spitzer.

"When I chose to pursue the discipline of Osteopathic Medicine, I did not believe there was a conflict between its study and my strongly held faith," said Loketch. "I appreciate Attorney General Spitzer's efforts to represent my point of view and the willingness of the College of Medicine to resolve my concerns. At this point, my top priority is continuing my studies and successfully completing my medical training."

When Ms. Loketch asked the Old Westbury-based school for a religious-based waiver from the college's established instructional dress requirements; her initial request was denied. As a result of her objections to comply, she received grades of unprepared for the laboratory portion of her study which adversely affected the grades she received.

Following these actions, she sought the assistance and advocacy of the Attorney General and the Agudath Israel of America, an organization specializing in advocacy of Orthodox Jewish causes. Ms. Loketch was granted accommodation by the school which will allow her to be more modestly dressed and is sensitive to the religious concerns she expressed. Under an agreement reached with the school she will be permitted to:

  • Wear a skirt during lecture portions of the joint-lecture/laboratory course;
  • Wear an open-backed tee shirt over her bathing suit;
  • Wear a head covering; and,
  • When acting as patient to limit the removal of clothing in the lab to articles required for proper examination.

The Attorney General interceded on Ms. Loketch's behalf to resolve the dispute, contending that her case was based on the civil rights principal of reasonable accommodation. Upon review of the matter the Medical School modified its policy to honor Ms. Loketch's request.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Avi Schick.