A federal judge denied Eastern Michigan University’s move for dismissal or summary judgment of former EMU counseling graduate student Julea Ward’s case March 24.
Ward was taking a Practicum course in the program which required students to counsel between five and eight clients during the semester. The clients come from the general public and pay the university a small fee for the services.
Ward’s third client sought counseling about a homosexual relationship. After Ward read the file, she decided she could not counsel the individual because of her religious beliefs.
Legal documents obtained by The Eastern Echo said Professor Yvonne Callaway directed the client to be referred to a different counselor. Callaway then met with Ward and after the discussion, she informed Ward that she would not be assigned any other clients.
Shortly after this, disciplinary action was brought against Ward.
Ward was dismissed from the program March 12, 2009.
The documents said “defendants Dr. Polite’s, Dr. Ametrano’s, Dr. Francis’, Dr. Marx’s, Dr. Callaway’s, Dr. Dugger’s, and Stanifer’s motion for dismissal or summary judgment premised on qualified immunity is hereby denied.
The EMU defendants’ motion for dismissal or summary judgment premised on Eleventh Amendment immunity is hereby denied as Ward has not alleged a claim for damages against any defendant in their official capacity.”
The hearing on the motions was held Jan. 28.
Jeremy Tedesco, Ward’s lawyer, said that while it is not a final decision, this is “an important win in the case.”
“Essentially what it means is that the defendants who remain in the case can be held personally responsible if the judge ultimately decides that Julea’s rights were violated,” he said.
Tedesco is seeking the answer to what he believes is the biggest concern of the case.
“The question in the case is –can a student maintain adherence to their most core and fundamental religious beliefs and still get a degree from Eastern Michigan University?”
He believes the counseling department violated Ward’s rights and by doing so, hurt the progression of her career.
“She was almost done with this program,” Tedesco said. “She was at the end and it’s very difficult for her to transfer, if any of your fellow students know, it’s not an easy process to transfer. Almost every school she tried to transfer to said ‘oh, we’ll take a quarter of your credits or less that you completed elsewhere.”
Ward’s ultimate goal is to be readmitted into the program.
“She’s been put in a position where she almost has to restart the program wherever she goes and obviously getting back into Eastern and finishing her degree there would be in her best interest because she can get her degree and start her counseling career as soon as possible that way,” he said.
Tedesco is optimistic he will win the case for his client.
“We think there’s a great prospect for victory here and we certainly hope that we are victorious in the end of this case because we think of what’s going on here as very egregious and there’s a lot on the line.”
Tedesco said a win in this case would assure Christian students they have the right to be religious without being asked to do something contrary to their beliefs.
The Eastern Echo sought comments from representatives of EMU in response to the recent update in the court proceedings, but an immediate response was not received.