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Portland State University Settles Lawsuit over Service Dog

PORTLAND, Ore. ― Portland State University will pay $161,500 to settle a lawsuit claiming it discriminated against disabled students who have service animals.

Deaf student Cindy Leland and the Fair Housing Council of Oregon filed the $1 million lawsuit in 2012, alleging the university wouldn’t allow Leland and her dog to live in an on-campus apartment that had carpeting. The suit also said she couldn’t complete prerequisites for a master’s degree program because a teaching assistant told her the dog wasn’t allowed in a science lab.

Portland State admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement signed Thursday by federal judge Michael Simon. Leland and the housing council will split $142,500 in an unspecified way, and the rest of money will go into an interest-bearing account to compensate current and former students who file claims that they were treated differently because of their disabilities.

As part of the settlement, the university agreed to revise its policies regarding assistance animals and provide more training for some employees. Leland’s attorney, Dennis Steinman, says the remedies approved by the judge are far-reaching and a model for all universities to follow.

“This is a great outcome, not only for Cindy Leland, but for all disabled students who may have been discriminated against,” Steinman says.

The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a separate investigation and is finalizing a settlement with the university. Amanda Marshall, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, says the school’s policy changes are “a great step forward.”

Though it denied Leland’s allegations, Portland State acknowledged in a statement that Leland had a difficult experience and the university wishes her success as she continues her studies. The university said it is committed to the success of all students and works hard to accommodate those with disabilities.

Steinman says his client plans to pursue an occupational therapy degree in the United Kingdom and has been assured that her service dog is welcome.

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