The university settled in December and will pay Ward $75,000, according to AnnArbor.com.Julea Ward’s lawsuit against her graduate program in counseling at Eastern Michigan University took several interesting turns last year. The case started when Ward refused to counsel a gay client as part of her training; the university determined this was discrimination, and expelled Ward from the program. She sued, claiming she was being singled out for her religious beliefs. I’ve previously discussed the case here and here. Ward’s case is often discussed in the same breath as Jennifer Keeton’s. Keeton sued Augusta State University, where she had been a graduate student in counseling, after the university expelled her for clearly stating her refusal to counsel gay and lesbian clients and her unwillingness to complete a university-mandated remediation plan. While Keeton lost her case, Ward appeared to at least have some chance of winning hers. In a footnote within his ruling in favor of Augusta State University in the Keeton case, United States District Judge J. Randal Hall made it clear that the two cases had similar themes but very different specifics (citations removed, and paragraph breaks and emphasis added, for clarity):
This case is distinguishable. In Ward, the plaintiff, a student enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s graduate counseling program, asked to refer a gay client during her practicum course because she claimed that her faith prevented her from affirming a client’s same-sex relationships. No remediation plan was issued; instead, the plaintiff was promptly dismissed from the program following a formal review. […] The plaintiff in Ward was disciplined after she asked to refer a client, but evidence showed that the university may not have had a policy prohibiting such referrals; indeed, there was evidence that referrals had been permitted for others in the past. […] The Sixth Circuit held that a juror could find that the plaintiff was dismissed because of her religious views.This case presents a stark contrast: Keeton was cited by faculty for statements which evinced an intent to clearly violate program policies, i.e., according to the remediation plan, faculty believed that Keeton had expressed an interest in conversion therapy. Moreover, Keeton later stated definitively, and without mention of referral, that she would not withhold open judgment of a client’s sexual choices in a counseling session, action also in violation of program policies. One final set of facts serves to
distinguish the two cases – Keeton was not, like the plaintiff in Ward, summarily dismissed. Instead, she was subjected to a remediation plan, the details and import of which was painstakingly explained by faculty members through meetings, written plans, emails, and face-to-face discussions. […] In sum, the patience and measure exhibited by faculty members during the course of Keeton’s protracted remediation proceedings, coupled with the nature and content of their efforts to ensure that Keeton understood how her actions violated professional ethics and could harm future clients, mark this case as different from Ward.
Eastern Michigan, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, chose to settle with Ward and has agreed to pay her $75,000. Notably, the university is neither admitting any wrongdoing nor changing any of its policies as a result of the ruling, according to AnnArbor.com. In the meantime, Michigan’s legislature debated the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act” — which would have allowed graduate students in mental health to refuse to treat gay and lesbian clients if providing treatment would conflict with the student’s religious beliefs.I’ve written about that and a similar “conscience clause” bill that did become law in Arizona. A similar bill has now been proposed in Tennessee, which I’ll tackle in a separate post. # # # Your comments are welcomed in the comments section below, by email at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or in the conversation on my Twitter feed.