University of Iowa to pay $10K after discrimination claim by student with service dog

Student allegedly denied housing in a residence hall

Vanessa Miller
Published: December 23 2013 | 2:45 pm - Updated: 6 March 2014 | 10:58 pm in
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The University of Iowa has agreed to revise its policy – and pay $10,000 – after a student with disabilities reported being denied housing in a residence hall because she had a service dog.

The agreement between the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the UI was made public this month after the student filed a complaint in mid to late summer, said Don Grove, supervisor of housing investigation for the state commission.

According to the agreement, the female student – who was not named – said UI officials “refused to waive their ‘no pets’ policy for an assistance animal,” causing her to be denied housing based on her disability.

The UI, through its Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, acknowledged its obligations under the Fair Housing Act and the Iowa Civil Rights Act to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. They agreed that includes allowing the use of assistance animals, which can be defined as service animals, emotional support animals or companion animals.

UI officials entered into the settlement “in a good faith effort to resolve the issues amicably” but denied discriminating against the student in this case, according to the agreement.

They deal was reached before the state commission could investigate the allegations and make a determination about whether discrimination occurred.

As part of the deal, the UI agreed to pay the student $10,000, revise its policies on how reasonable accommodation will be addressed and train residence hall staff on federal and state laws.

The UI specifically agreed to revise its University Operations Manual policy to allow for assistance animals in university housing “when a reasonable accommodation is necessary.”

According to the revised policy, pets – other than aquarium fish – are not allowed in university housing. Assistance animals can be, if deemed appropriate, but “animals living in the residence halls create a unique variable in community living, potentially impacting the entire community.”

For that reason, the policy limits one assistance animal per room – in most circumstances – and requires the animals to be able to tolerate small spaces and “not disrupt the learning environment of the residence halls, or the safety and comfort of other residents.”

They have to be on a leash or harness when leaving the building, unless that would interfere with its ability to work, and owners must clean up after their animals.

“Assistance animals that are a nuisance due to noise, hygiene or aggressiveness will not be allowed to continue living in the residence halls,” according to the policy.

Everyone living on a floor with the service dog will be notified. Students with disabilities who need service dogs will be given “equal consideration for assignment to a single room as students with any other verified disability.”

UI Housing and Dining also will post its “reasonable accommodations” policy online, along with a request form, and keep written records of each request for at least three years.

As part of the settlement, the UI agreed to train its compliance specialist, residence hall coordinators and some members of its housing and dining staff  on state and federal fair housing laws.

“The training will address all aspects of fair housing law, but will emphasize the law regarding how to handle requests for reasonable accommodations,” according to the agreement.

The settlement required the UI had to pay the student $10,000 and agree to follow policies outlined in the agreement if the student again applies to live in UI housing with her service dog.

According to the settlement, the student already has submitted medical information to the UI, and the commission said UI officials can speak with the student and her health care providers about her disability and the need for a companion dog.

Beth Townsend, executive director of the state’s Civil Rights Commission, said in a prepared statement that the settlement makes sure the UI will continue serving students with disabilities by ensuring that those who need assistance animals have equal access to housing.

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