UNK reached a $140,000 settlement in a lawsuit stemming from 2011 when the university denied a student’s request to have a therapy dog in a dorm to help her cope with anxiety.
“Through a series of events, the Department of Justice became involved and there was a question over whether the Fair Housing Act applied to colleges and universities or whether just regular housing rules apply to colleges and universities and how those go along with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” UNK spokeswoman Kelly Bartling tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KKPR.
Bartling says the settlement avoids a costly trial and allows UNK to develop its assistance animal policy.
“Through this process, it gives us a policy and procedures that are agreeable to the Department of Justice that will help us accommodate students with disabilities and will put us in a position where there is less of a misunderstanding on what we can ask and what students are able to do,” according to Bartling.
In the original dispute, Brittany Hamilton argued that she needed the dog to help her cope with an anxiety disorder.
Federal Judge John Gerrard with the 8th District Court in Lincoln ruled the Fair Housing Act applies to colleges and universities.
Under the agreement with DOJ, UNK will begin using new policies to verify with the student making the accommodation request has an actual disability and whether the student needs the animal in university housing. The consent order clears UNK or the Board of Regents of any wrongdoing. UNK maintained throughout it followed established practices and that the extension of the Fair Housing Act to university housing wasn’t clearly spelled out prior to DOJ’s involvement.
“I’m only disappointed that our sincere efforts to negotiate through the court were not reciprocated. We could have avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on litigation and electronic discovery and deployed those funds toward what UNK does best-providing access and supporting success for all of our valued students, including those with disabilities,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said in a written statement released by the university.
Brent Weithorn, KKPR, contributed to this report.