The Justice Department and U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island today announced a settlement agreement with Brown University to ensure that students with mental health disabilities have equal access to educational programs.
The agreement resolves the department’s findings that Brown University violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not allowing students who took medical leave for mental health reasons to return to school even though they were ready to return to campus life.
The settlement agreement protects the rights of students with mental health disabilities to have equal access to Brown’s educational programs. The agreement also ensures that Brown will make reasonable modifications to its policies for students with mental health disabilities seeking to return from medical leave.
Title III of the ADA requires places of public accommodation like colleges and universities to provide individuals with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, with an equal opportunity to participate in their programs and services. The ADA also requires colleges and universities to make reasonable modifications to their policies for students with disabilities when needed.
The department’s investigation found that, between fall 2012 and spring 2017, dozens of undergraduate students were denied readmission to Brown after taking mental health-related medical leave. These students met the requirements for returning to Brown, and each of the students’ treatment providers reported to Brown that the students were ready to resume their studies and participate in campus life. Yet, the department found that Brown denied the students’ applications for readmission, depriving these students of the opportunity to participate in and benefit from Brown’s educational programs.
As a result of the agreement announced today, Brown will:
- revise its undergraduate leave policies and practices to be consistent with Title III of the ADA;
- provide training on Title III of the ADA to all faculty and staff responsible for evaluating or making decisions about requests to take or return from leaves of absence; and
- pay $684,000 to compensate the undergraduate students who were harmed.
“Students with disabilities deserve access to equal opportunity to help ensure that they can achieve their educational goals," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that colleges and universities do not exclude students on the basis of their disability or because they took time to receive the treatment they needed to thrive. “We will keep fighting to ensure equal access for students with mental health disabilities at colleges and universities across our country.”
“Universities play a critical role in fulfilling the ADA’s promise of equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” said Acting United States Attorney Richard Myrus for the District of Rhode Island. “Instead of imposing extra barriers on students seeking to return to campus from medical leave, universities must reasonably accommodate students who are treating their mental health disabilities. I want to thank Brown University for its cooperation throughout our investigation and its willingness both to address the issues identified and to compensate the students who were wrongfully denied readmission. The policies that Brown has agreed to implement should serve as a timely reminder to other colleges and universities to ensure that their medical leave policies must not discriminate against students with mental health disabilities.”
This matter was handled jointly by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Romero of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island and the Disability Rights Section of the Department’s Civil Rights Division. July 26, 2021 marked the 31st Anniversary of the ADA. The Justice Department plays a central role in advancing the nation’s goal of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt. For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Programs is available at http://www.justice.gov/usao-ri.