This morning several of my Facebook friends, with much derision, shared the following story about Jennifer Burbella, a Pennsylvania woman who has filed a federal lawsuit:
Pennsylvania nursing student sues Misericordia University after failing course twice: lawsuit
Student Suing Misericordia University Officials After Failing to Pass Course
Nursing Student Who Failed Class Twice Sues Her University
Here’s the lede from that third link:
A nursing student who says anxiety and depression made it difficult for her to concentrate has sued a northeastern Pennsylvania university after twice failing a required course.
This story is probably exactly what it looks like, but I’m not yet ready to join in on the mockery. Remember Stella Liebeck’s “hot coffee” lawsuit against McDonald’s? On the surface, that also seemed to be a frivolous, bullshit lawsuit, but any reasonable person who knew all the facts would realize it was an appropriate and necessary case.
I’ll repeat, I think it’s likely this case is every bit as ridiculous as it seems, but I’ll reserve judgment for now, and encourage everyone else to do so as well. Keep these two things in mind:
One, we don’t know all the details of the case, or even if they’ve been reported accurately. There were many news stories about my lawsuit over the years it was active, and the reporters who wrote them always got some of the facts wrong. Always. Even reporters who worked for sympathetic LGBT news organs. Even when they interviewed me and asked follow-up questions. Even when the reporters were friends with me, and had reported on my case before.
This lawsuit was filed on May 5, and it only hit the news two days ago; most versions of the news about it don’t identify the court in which it was filed ( the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania), and I can’t find a (free) copy of Burbella’s complaint anywhere online. As far as I can find, none of the usual fact-checking websites have examined her claims yet; when I Google “Jennifer Burbella,” most of the search results are right-wing bloggers joining the pile-on. What we don’t know about the suit is probably a much bigger dataset than what we do know.
Two, everyone in social media I’ve seen share this story (as well as, I suspect, the reporters and editors who’ve been covering it) is much older than the plaintiff, and has indicated they think her presumptive entitlement is endemic in her age bracket. It’s common for older generations to scornfully criticize the younger ones as privileged, amoral, or lazy (“Back in my day…”). In reality, no one ever really had to walk to school uphill both ways in snow, and I doubt Millennials as a group are really so much different in character from Generation X or Baby Boomers or Flappers.
Until I learn much more about this case, I’ll give Ms. Burbella the benefit of the doubt. It’s much too soon to strap her to a gurney and load her into the “Waaambulance.”