Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Grant Activity: Current Activity Impacting Communities

Discrimination Against Students with Mental Illness

On January 12, 2015, The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Quinnipiac University reached a settlement to resolve allegations that the university violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by placing a student who had been diagnosed with depression on a mandatory medical leave of absence without first considering options for the student’s continued enrollment. Before we examine the particulars of the case, allow me to list my opinion of what I think are the factual conclusions we can make, and some reasonable assumptions that can be inferred. Look at the list, read about the case below, and see if you arrive at similar conclusions and make the same assumptions:
 
1. Quinnipiac so flagrantly violated the ADA that a law school dropout could have spotted it (factual conclusion)
2. Quinnipiac officials, like many Americans, endorse stereotypes about people with mental health conditions to the extent that they honestly don’t believe they did anything wrong (reasonable assumption)
3. A student was essentially expelled from a university and not allowed back on campus because of a treatable, non-infectious medical condition and had her tuition money pocketed by the institution (factual conclusion)
4. This would NOT have occurred if the student had ANY physical health condition, including Ebola (reasonable assumption)
5. Quinnipiac Vice President for Public Affairs, Lynn Bushnell, regrets that the DOJ didn’t give the University time to devise a disingenuous press release responding to the settlement, which was necessary because of the University’s blatant discriminatory actions (factual conclusion)
6. Bushnell cynically mentions respect for the student when it seems obvious that Quinnipiac’s concern for the student’s well-being falls somewhere between “not our problem” and “get her off our campus before she does something that could make us look bad or cost us money, which, of course is a sentiment that lacks any sort of merit and is based entirely in prejudice” (reasonable assumption)
 
 
Let’s take a look at some of the details of this case, from the Hartford Courant:
 
The student, who spoke to the Courant Monday, said her problems began in fall 2011 when, as a freshman, she sought help from the school's mental health counseling offices. It was October, the student said, and she was having trouble with the transition to college.
 
"I think every freshman has days when they are just like shell-shocked," the young woman said. "I thought it was better to see someone than to be stressed by myself. My mother told me people were here and I could go there and I could talk to them."
 
But the student believes the counselor took her words out of context, over-reacted and considered her to be danger to herself. The student said she was packed off in an ambulance and sent to St. Raphael's Hospital in New Haven. Before she left, she said, she was handed a couple of envelopes that she didn't immediately open.
Her mother joined her at the hospital where she was assessed and released, but when she opened the envelopes, she discovered statements from the university that said she couldn't return to campus until she was assessed by a university-designated psychiatrist.
 
Colin Milne, a staff attorney with the state's Office for Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, which filed the complaint on behalf of the student, said, "St. Raphael released the student, but the student was barred from campus."
 
Now, let’s read what the DOJ thought about this:
 
"Quinnipiac University failed to consider modifying its mandatory medical leave policy to permit the complainant to complete her course work while living off campus by attending classes either online or in person.
 
Quinnipiac removed this student from the university at a very vulnerable time in her life, and saddled her with a large student loan payment. Instead of removing students from school, educational institutions must be equipped to manage and educate students who recognize, disclose and are treating their mental health disabilities.”
 
And finally, let’s take a look at some of the Quinnipiac response to the settlement, from the New Haven Register:
 
Quinnipiac denies the allegations but agreed to the settlement because both parties believe “that it is in the public interest to resolve this dispute without engaging in protracted litigation,” according to the settlement.
“The university is in full compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs. “In fact, our ADA standards exceed those of most academic institutions.
 
“Out of respect for the confidentiality of the student involved, we will not comment further on this case,” Bushnell said. “We regret that a government agency did not show similar respect for the student and circulated a press release without ever contacting us.”
 
So, go back up to the top; do the conclusions appear to be based in fact? Are the assumptions off-base?