Monday, March 11, 2013

Losing at All Fronts

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) was sued over its pet policy.

A 28 year old student Kendra Velzen brought the western Michigan university to a federal court after the school asked her to remove a pet guinea pig from an off campus university owned student housing unit Calder Residence Hall. The student received a $40,000 settlement. The irony is that this was not a story made up by the Onion.

For its credits, GVSU follows the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and allows 'service animals' on campus. The student was not classified as disabled under the ADA. Even were she was disabled, the ADA specifically stated animals "whose solely function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA." However, she is covered by the Fair Housing Act because she often finds herself "depressed". The student claimed she felt good when having the rodent in sight. The Fair Housing Act defines 'therapy animals' as any used as treatment for a diagnosed condition, say depression.

Under the heavy guns of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, GVSU caved in Nov 2011 to allow the student to keep the rodent in the university apartment.

In the next step, the student asked to bring the rodent to common areas, including food service areas. Sensed an avalanche of lawsuits from students who were allergic to rodents, GVSU refused. The said rodent had died in last fall, yet the student moved the lawsuit forward. It would be interesting to learn how the Fair Housing Act regulates non-dwelling areas such as the student union and cafeterias. In the end, Kendra pocketed $40,000 from GVSU.

On a related case, the same Fair Housing Center of West Michigan who joint Ms. Velzen's lawsuit as co-plaintiffs brought a 31 woman to court under the Fair Housing Act. The woman posted an advertisement at her own church's bulletin board with the words "I am looking for a female Christian roommate. Rent is $375/mo, which includes utilities." The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan saw the note expressed 'an illegal preference'. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development concurred.

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