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Department of Justice
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 3, 2015

Justice Department and University of Nebraska at Kearney Settle Lawsuit Over Rights of Students with Psychological Disabilities to Have Assistance Animals in Student Housing

The Justice Department announced today that the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska have agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by the department.  Under the proposed settlement, which must still be approved by the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska in Lincoln, UNK will:

  • pay $140,000 to two former students who sought and were denied reasonable accommodations to keep assistance animals in their university apartments; and

  • change its housing policy to allow persons with psychological disabilities to keep animals with them in university housing where such animals provide necessary therapeutic benefits to such students.                                                     

The proposed settlement would resolve a lawsuit filed by the department in 2011.  In that lawsuit, the department alleged that UNK violated the Fair Housing Act when, in 2010, it denied requests to allow two different students with psychological disabilities to keep an emotional support dog with them in University Heights, a 102-unit apartment complex that UNK operates for students near the UNK campus.  One of the students filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which investigated the complaint and referred it to the department.  Under the proposed settlement, UNK has agreed to change its policy to accommodate similar requests going forward. 

“This is an important settlement for students with disabilities not only at UNK but throughout the country,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “Assistance animals such as emotional support dogs can provide critical support and therapeutic benefits for persons with psychological disabilities.  The Fair Housing Act requires that universities accommodate students who need such animals in order to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of university housing.”

“Allowing a student with disabilities to keep an assistance animal is not only required by law, it can mean the difference between having the opportunity to attend college or not,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.  “The department will continue to work with the Department of Justice to take appropriate action anytime the Fair Housing Act is violated.”

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through HUD’s website at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.

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Updated September 3, 2015