Identical twin sisters accused of cheating on their year-end medical school exams have won a defamation case against the Medical University of South Carolina.
The twins, Kayla and Kellie Bingham, were accused of “academic dishonesty” in May 2016 after test proctors reviewed the results of an exam on which their performance was deemed to be remarkably similar. The sisters’ identical answers to 296 of 307 questions, including 54 wrong answers, raised alarm bells among university officials, who launched an investigation into the twins’ performance.
A school “honor council” alleged the pair “were signaling one another and passing notes,” court documents show, and ultimately ruled they had cheated on the exam.
“It was an eight-hour exam during which we exhibited normal test-taking behavior,” Kayla Bingham told CBS MoneyWatch.
The Binghams successfully appealed the decision and filed a lawsuit against the university, arguing that for years they had behaved and performed similarly academically and in athletics. After a four-day trial in November, a South Carolina jury decided the school had defamed the sisters and awarded them a total of $1.5 million in damages.
The Binghams’ legal case hinged on the theory that it is common for identical twins to perform similarly on tests given their genetic profiles. Nancy Segal, who runs California State University, Fullerton’s Twin Studies Center and who testified in the case, said numerous studies show that identical twins often perform similarly on a range of cognitive tests.
“There is a wealth of psychological research that shows that identical twins do perform very similarly on tests of intelligence, information processing and speed of response, and I was not at all surprised they turned in very similar exams,” Segal, who is a psychologist, told CBS MoneyWatch.
“When identical twins perform very differently it catches our attention,” she added. “When they perform alike, it’s very consistent with the literature. I would have been surprised if they hadn’t scored alike.”
In their suit, the Binghams said the cheating allegations led to their experiencing psychological distress, including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was a very hostile environment. People we had known, sat next to and studied with for two years would not speak to us,” Kellie Bingham told CBS MoneyWatch. “They knew our work ethic and study habits but refused to hear our side of the story. People we trusted completely turned their backs on us.”
The university’s accusation and the events that ensued also interfered with the Binghams’ plans to become doctors. The two now work as government affairs advisers at the same South Carolina law firm.
“We came to understand that once word gets out, even if it’s not accurate, it damages your reputation as a person. So we completely switched tracks,” Kayla said, adding that she “wanted to fight back because I had been wronged.”