Settlement agreement reached in discrimination complaint against Northern Michigan University

Published: Oct. 30, 2018 at 5:22 PM EDT
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A settlement was reached with Northern Michigan University and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section.

The complaint alleged that NMU discriminated against a student with a disability in violation of Title II. The student alleges that NMU threatened to dis-enroll her and required her to submit to a psychological assessment and sign a behavioral agreement after she sent a chat message to a friend and fellow NMU student in which she told her friend that she has Major Depressive Disorder and her doctors are concerned she is at risk for suicide.

She alleges that the behavioral agreement prohibited her from engaging in any discussion of suicidal thoughts or actions with residents of her dorm, friends or other students.

The United States identified 3 other current or former NMU students who alleged that NMU discriminated against them based on disability in violation of Title II. These individuals alleged that NMU threatened them with disciplinary action for sharing suicidal or self-destructive thoughts with other NMU students, undergo mandatory psychological assessments to maintain enrollment, or involuntarily withdraw from NMU.

The United States DOJ/OCR found that the information gathered throughout the investigation substantiated the allegations against NMU.

As part of the settlement agreement, NMU must draft an ADA/Non-Discrimination Policy within 30 days, modify a portion of the Dean of Students web page dedicated to Behavioral Concerns within 10 days, and develop a training program for faculty and staff within 60 days.

NMU also has to pay a total of $173,500 in damages to the current or former students previously mentioned.

In a statement, Northern Michigan University said, “NMU is pleased to have settled with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on a 2013 student complaint alleging discrimination based on an NMU policy. NMU’s former policy was based on then existing interpretation of law and was followed by many universities and colleges. The OCR changed its interpretation and began investigating complaints.

"NMU welcomed clarification from DOJ and OCR and has made changes to campus procedures. NMU continues to put the health and safety of our students first. NMU provides many services to students to insure their well-being and NMU has been recognized as one of the safest campuses in the country.

"NMU is working on the actions outlined in the settlement with the help of counsel. Many items have been addressed previously, others will happen within the timeline of the agreement.”