ACLU Statement on Decision in Michigan Case Concerning School Counselors and LGBT Discrimination

January 27, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision today in the case of a graduate student, Julea Ward, who was removed from Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU’s) counseling program because she refused to counsel lesbian, gay and bisexual clients on any issues relating to same-sex relationships during her clinical training.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February supporting EMU’s right to remove the student for failing to adhere to the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, which the university’s counseling program follows.

Today’s appellate decision sends the case back to the lower court after raising questions about whether EMU appropriately applied the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics to prohibit the student from referring clients during her training. The court also questioned whether referrals could cause harm to clients.

“It’s important to note that the ruling does not resolve whether or not what the university did was permissible,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney with the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project at the ACLU of Michigan. “While no public university can discipline any student because of her beliefs, universities have a right to insist that their graduate students adhere to accepted standards of professionalism and place the needs of their clients first.”

“It is disturbing that the court fails to recognize that referring an LGBT client in crisis to another counselor could be damaging to a client’s mental health,” said Rose Saxe, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “Anyone training to be a public school counselor might be the only adult an LGBT student can turn to. No student should feel like he can’t trust his own guidance counselor because of who he is.”

Read the ACLU’s amicus brief in this case
ACLU: School Counselors Cannot Refuse To Counsel LGBT Clients