The Justice Department filed a lawsuit this week against a university and various university employees in Nebraska alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by discriminating against students with disabilities.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska, alleges the university and its employees engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FHA by denying reasonable accommodation requests by students with psychological or emotional disabilities who sought to live with emotional assistance animals in university housing. The case also alleges that the defendants required students with psychological disabilities to disclose sensitive medical and other information that is unnecessary to evaluate their accommodation requests. This lawsuit began following a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a student who requested an emotional assistance dog.
As we have reviewed any number of times in the Fair Housing Defense blog, reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests must be reviewed/responded to in a timely basis. The law is clear that management can only request enough medical information to confirm that the disability is recognized and that the accommodation (in this case a service animal) is reasonably related (or has a nexus) to the disability. DOJ's suit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed, and a civil penalty.
Now remember, I am a defense lawyer. The complaint is only an allegation of unlawful conduct. There is always another side to the story and I want to hear from the defense before drawing any conclusions. But management (in this case a university) must always consider and respond to reasonable accommodation/modification requests. Or you may well face an action like this.
Just a thought.