Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sixth Circuit reinstates graduate student's lawsuit based on student's refusal to counsel gay men and women on their same sex relationships

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the lawsuit of a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) that had been dismissed by the District Court over her disagreement over counseling gay clients.

In that case, Eastern Michigan University prohibited its counseling students from discriminating against others based on sexual orientation and taught students to affirm a client’s values during counseling sessions. A graduate student in school counseling had consistently clashed with her professors regarding her purportedly held Christian beliefs that prohibited her from affirming same sex relationships (and heterosexual conduct like extra-marital relationships). Despite this ongoing dispute, the graduate student did well in the program and continued towards her degree.

Towards the end of her program, the student, who had a 3.91 GPA, was asked to counsel a gay client. The graduate student asked that the gay client be referred to another counselor based on her beliefs. The client was referred to another counselor and disciplinary action was taken against the graduate student. She was, in fact, dismissed from the program.

The graduate student subsequently filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming an infringement of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court dismissed the case on summary judgment. The graduate student appealed.

While recognizing that universities have discretion in curriculum choices, the Sixth Circuit determined that a reasonable jury could have found, when the facts were viewed most favorably towards the graduate student, that it was error for the university to have a no referral policy, as the same could have violated the graduate student's constitutional rights.

This does not mean that the graduate student wins the case. Rather, it just means that the matter can proceed to a jury trial.

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