Kent State University agrees to $145,000 settlement of federal lawsuit over assistance animals

By Karen Farkas, Cleveland.com, January 03, 2016

KENT, Ohio - Kent State University would allow assistance animals in university housing and would pay a couple $100,000 as part of a proposed consent decree to settle a fair-housing lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As part of the deal, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, the university also would pay $30,000 to the Fair Housing Advocates Association in Akron and $15,000 to the federal government.

But the consent decree, submitted Monday by all parties, states that the university and other defendants "deny all of the allegations in the United States' Complaint and deny that they have violated the FHA in any manner, and contend that at all times, they operated university housing at Kent State in compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations that prohibit discrimination."

The Justice Department sued in September 2014, alleging the university, its board of trustees and university officials violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against students with disabilities in student housing.

The federal lawsuit arose following a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by Jacqueline Luke, who had sought to live with a dog following a university psychologist's recommendation that the animal would help alleviate her anxiety.

Luke, who has been diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in the university-owned Allerton Apartments in fall 2008 with her husband, Brandon. She began having panic attacks in 2009 and was treated in the university's health services office.

She requested a housing accommodation for an "emotional service animal" in December 2009. The couple learned two months later, after acquiring a dog, that the request was denied. They moved.

The university allows students to keep fish in university-owned student housing and also permits "service animals" who are trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.

The lawsuit said the university and its employees refused to allow students with psychological or emotional disabilities to have assistance animals in university housing and treated them less favorably than students with other types of disabilities such as mobility disabilities or vision impairments. 

As part of the settlement, the university proposes to adopt a policy on reasonable accommodations and assistance animals in University Housing and post the policy in housing and on websites.

An assistance animal does not necessarily need to be trained, and is not limited to any specific type of animal, the decree says. The animal is restricted to the residence and may not accompany the resident to other areas of the university without permission.

The university also would provide education and training to its employees regarding the policy, and would be monitored for three years.

The $100,000 would be paid to Luke and her husband.

"We believe the consent degree speaks for itself so we have no further comment at this time," university spokesman Eric Mansfield said in an email.

"Kent State University is to be commended for reaching an agreement that will benefit its students," U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio said in a statement.  "This agreement will help many people who are working hard to earn their fair share of the American dream."

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2016/01/kent_state_university_agrees_t.html

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