Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Old Dominion University to Resolve Disability Discrimination Complaint | OPA

Today the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia, to resolve its investigation into a complaint that ODU discriminated and retaliated against a graduate student based on disability and her related request for reasonable modifications of policy.  The Civil Rights Division conducted the investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“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 acknowledgement of her right to reasonable modifications of policy 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 based on her disability, ODU terminated the student’s working relationship with her professor-advisor, removed the student from the professor’s lab, 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.  

ODU cooperated throughout the investigation and committed to complying fully with its legal obligations under the ADA and Section 504.  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, up to and including termination, on 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.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt and additional information about the work of the Educational Opportunities Section is available at https://www.justice.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-section.  Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/

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