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Ward v. Members of the Board of Control of Eastern Michigan University

March 24, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George Caram Steeh United States District Judge



The several Eastern Michigan University ("EMU") defendants, which include eight members of the EMU Board of Regents, EMU's President, EMU's Dean of the College of Education, five EMU Professors, and an EMU Student Representative, move for dismissal or summary judgment of former EMU Counseling Graduate Student Julea Wards' claims for damages arising from Ward's allegations that she was dismissed from EMU's Counseling Graduate Program due to her religious beliefs on the subject of homosexuality, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants argue they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment and qualified immunity against any award of damages. Plaintiff Ward moves for relief from the defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(f), arguing the motion is premature due to the need for further factual development in discovery. A hearing on the motions was held on January 28, 2010. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for dismissal or summary judgment will be denied. Plaintiff's Rule 56(f) motion will be denied as moot.

I. Background

EMU Counseling Graduate Student Julea Ward filed her Complaint on April 2, 2009, alleging defendants EMU Board of Regentsmembers Wilbanks, Clack, Hawks, Incarnati, Okdie, Parker, Sidlik, and Stapelton, defendant EMU PresidentDr. Martin, defendant EMU Dean of the College of EducationDr. Polite, defendants Professors of Counseling and EducationDr. Ametrano, Dr. Francis, Dr. Marx, Dr. Callaway, and Dr. Dugger, and Formal Review Committee student member defendant Paula Stanifer, each violated Ward's First Amendment free speech and religious rights, and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights, by dismissing her from EMU's Counseling Program for her Christian beliefs and expressions opposing homosexual conduct. EMU's Counseling Department allegedly prohibits graduate students from advising clients during a Counseling Practicum course that they should refrain from homosexual conduct. Ward alleges EMU required her to affirm or validate homosexual behavior.

Graduate students such as Ward counsel between five and eight clients during the Practicum course, which requires completion of 100 hours, usually over one semester. Clients come from the general public and pay EMU a small fee for counseling services. The controversy arose when Ward's third client sought counseling regarding a homosexual relationship. After Ward read the file, and about one hour before meeting the client, she asked her supervisor, Professor Callaway, whether she should refer the client to another counselor because she could not affirm the client's homosexual behavior. Professor Callaway directed that the client be referred to another counselor before Ward met him, then met with Ward to discuss the situation. After the discussion, Professor Callaway informed Ward that she would not be assigned any more clients, and that she, Callaway, would be requesting an informal disciplinary review before herself and Ward's Advisor, Professor Dugger, as to whether Ward had violated EMU policies set forth in "The Counseling Student Handbook" ("Counseling Handbook"), prohibiting "unethical, threatening, or unprofessional conduct," an "inability to tolerate different points of view," "imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals," and "discrimination based on . . . sexual orientation." See Complaint, Ex.1. At an February 3, 2009 informal review, Ward was given the choices of: (1) completing a "remediation program"; (2) voluntarily leaving the Counseling Program; or (3) requesting a formal hearing. Ward chose the latter.

Ward was notified in a February 19, 2009 letter that the formal review was prompted by Dr. Callaway's concerns regarding Ward's performance in the Practicum, and that the formal review was considered "disciplinary in nature" pursuant to page 14 of the Counseling Handbook. The letter informed Ward that she may be disciplined for "a violation of . . . the [American Counseling Association ("ACA")] Code of Ethics and or when a student exhibits a pattern of recurring behavior which may include . . . [u]nethical, threatening or unprofessional conduct" and "[f]ailure to tolerate different points of view[.]" Complaint, Ex. 2. A formal hearing was held on March 10, 2009, which was attended by Professors Callaway and Dugger. Those serving on the hearing panel were Professors Ametrano, Francis, and Marx, and student Stanifer. A transcript of the March 10, 2009 hearing attached to the Complaint as Exhibit 3 evidences: (1) Dr. Callaway disciplined Ward after Ward asked advice whether to refer the homosexual client to another student-in-training, telling Ward "this is not going to work" (Tr. at 13); (2) Ward expressed that she was willing to counsel homosexuals on any issue "unrelated to that behavior" (Id. at 10); (3) the client "was seeking counseling regarding homosexual behavior" (Id. at 12); (4) Ward asked for a "reasonable accommodation" that "the small percentage of persons seeking counseling regarding homosexual behavior could easily be assigned to another practicum student" (Id. at 14); (5) Ward stated "I will not and cannot affirm any behavior that goes against what the Bible says" (Id. at 27); (6) Ward believed she did not violate the ACA Code of Ethics because she did not "do any harm" to a client (Id. at 30); (6) Ward was asked by Dr. Marx "how someone with such strong religious beliefs would enter a profession that would cause you to go against those beliefs . . . by its stated code of ethics" (Id. at 31); (7) Ward believed referring to another counselor was consistent with the ACA Code of Ethics (Id. 33) and; (8) Drs. Ametrano and Francis opined that, under the ACA Code of Ethics, it is inappropriate to counsel a client, or offer services, attempting to "change their perceived sexual orientation -- from homosexual to heterosexual," and that the ACA "put out a position paper saying [it is] unethical to refer clients to have their sexual orientation changed" or referred to "reparative therapy." (Id. at 37-38).

During the March 10, 2009 hearing, the following exchange took place: WARD: . . . . I cannot affirm somebody's behavior if it is, uh, going against my religious beliefs.

FRANCIS: OK, good, I . . . I wanted to make sure I understood that and that was clear for me.

FRANCIS: Let me take it another direction here because I . . . I'm going to get some other things and I'm gonna take it on a little bit of a theological bout. WARD: OK.

FRANCIS: OK. Um, is anyone more righteous than another before God?

WARD: Is anyone more righteous than another before God?


WARD. God says that we're all the same.


WARD: That's what God says.

FRANCIS: OK, so if that's your direction . . .

WARD: Ahum.

FRANCIS: . . . how does that fit with your belief that . . . and I understand that you're not, because the word you keep using is affirming, you're not, which comes across as I'm not going to condone that [homosexual] behavior, I'm not going to affirm it, so I'm not going to go that way.


FRANCIS: If that's true, then aren't you on equal footing with these people? With, with everyone?

WARD: Absolutely Dr. Francis.


Then doesn't that mean that you're all on the same boat and shouldn't they be accorded the same respect and honor that God would give them? WARD: Well, what I want to say is, again, I'm not making a distinguishable difference with the person.


WARD: I'm addressing the behavior.

FRANCIS: OK, so it's love the saint condemn the sinner, or condemn the sin - I'm sorry.

WARD: If that's the wording you want to use.

FRANCIS: What wording would you use?

WARD: What I've just said. I'm not opposed to any person.

FRANCIS: Uh huh.

WARD: OK? I believe that we all are, um, God loves us all, ...

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