Lambda Legal Represents Youth Organizations in Federal Lawsuit Brought by Former Eastern Michigan University Counseling Student
"It is cruel, dangerous and unethical for a school counselor to refuse services on a discriminatory basis solely to lesbian or gay youth who seek help and guidance from a mental health professional."
(Chicago, February 11, 2011)—Today, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Detroit-based organizations Affirmations and Ruth Ellis Center in a case involving a counseling student dismissed from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) for violating ethics related to treatment of LGBT patients.
Julea Ward, a graduate student pursuing a degree in school counseling, claims her First Amendment rights were violated when EMU dismissed her after Ms. Ward demanded to refer a gay client she had been assigned randomly as part of her course work, and refused to counsel any gay or lesbian clients in the future.
"It is cruel, dangerous and unethical for a counselor to refuse services on a discriminatory basis solely to lesbian or gay youth who seek help and guidance from a mental health professional," said Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney at the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal in Chicago. "LGBT youth—a group specifically at risk for bullying, depression, low self-esteem and suicide—need to have access to counselors who will support them, not counselors who will abandon them or worse—who will harm them by injecting antigay proscriptions into the counseling relationship in violation of the ethical rules and standards of care of every major mental health professional organization including the American Counseling Association."
In 2006, Julea Ward was admitted to Eastern Michigan University's masters program for school counseling. In 2009, as part of her practicum coursework, Ward refused to counsel an assigned client because he identified himself as gay, saying she would not "affirm their lifestyle." Ward then refused to participate in a remediation plan that would help her learn to counsel based on the client's values, not her own. These actions are a direct violation of the American Counseling Association's code of ethics, a code that Ward agreed to adhere to when she entered into EMU's masters program. Following a formal review, Ward was dismissed from the program.
In April 2009, Ward sued EMU with the help of a national antigay group based in Arizona, saying her First Amendment rights were violated. The Federal District Court ruled in favor of EMU, and Ward appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The antigay group representing Ward boasts a budget of nearly $20 million devoted solely to suing public universities around the country in similar cases. In fact, Lambda Legal participated in a nearly identical lawsuit brought by a counseling student against a public university in Georgia less than three months ago. (Read about that case, Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley.)
In the friend-of-the-court brief filed today on behalf of PFLAG, GLSEN, Affirmations and Ruth Ellis Center, Lambda Legal emphasized the important role of counselors for all children, and LGBT youth in particular. A school counselor plays an integral role in creating an environment where all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, feel safe and accepted at school. The suicide rate for LGBT students continues to be three to four times higher than for their heterosexual counterparts. A counselor who deprives these students of mental health services on a discriminatory basis could cause disastrous consequences, especially for children who are struggling with the impact of bullying, peer harassment, or rejection by family members.
Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional office in Chicago, is joined by co-counsel Jill M. Wheaton and Lauren M. London of Dykema Gossett PLLC on the brief.
The case is Ward v. Wilbanks et al.
Contact: Erik Roldan; 312-663-4413 x359; firstname.lastname@example.org
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.