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Justice Department, Old Dominion University reach settlement to resolve disability discrimination complaint

Disability Law book and stethoscope on the desk.

The Justice Department announced on February 3 that it has reached a settlement with Old Dominion University (ODU) to resolve a disability discrimination complaint that ODU discriminated and retaliated against a graduate student based on disability and her related request for reasonable modifications of policy.

According to the Justice Department press release, the investigation was into a complaint that the university “discriminated and retaliated” against a graduate student based on her disability and request for modifications of policy.

“Students should never have to choose between their right to request reasonable modifications of policy for their disabilities and their academic success,” said Gregory B. Friel, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement reflects the critical role colleges and universities — and their faculty and staff — play in delivering on the promise of the ADA and Section 504. By working in good faith with students to provide reasonable modifications of policy, colleges and universities can ensure that students with disabilities have full and equal access to educational opportunities at the highest levels of academic achievement.”

The investigation found that the complainant requested acknowledgment of her right to reasonable policy modifications and was penalized for doing so in violation of Title II and Section 504. The department concluded that after a dispute about the student’s request and her disability, ODU terminated the student’s working relationship with her professor-advisor, removed the student from the professor’s lab, and separated her from ongoing research, and withdrew her participation at a professional conference. The complainant was forced to change her graduate course of study and find a new advisor.

The settlement agreement requires ODU to develop and disseminate a retaliation policy that explains the ADA and Section 504 obligations applicable to all staff and faculty and clarifies that ODU will impose consequences, including termination of those who violate the policy. ODU will also provide comprehensive ADA training to administrators, faculty and staff. Finally, the agreement requires that ODU pay $40,000 in monetary damages to the complainant.

The enforcement of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division.

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