University brunt of lawsuit
A George Fox University student is suing the Newberg school on the grounds that the institution discriminated against her for her mental health history when applying for internships in a master's degree program.
School officials argue that the student was too quick to claim discrimination and retaliate as she seeks $600,000 in damages for lost wages and another $70,000 to cover student debt.
The plaintiff, Dayton resident Lynn Louise Jones, filed the disability discrimination complaint against the university. She was enrolled in the Masters of Arts Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, which she began in the summer of 2015. As part of her application materials, Jones described her mental health journey, which the complaint states included "her mental health diagnoses and spiral into psychosis and suicidality which resulted in her pleading Guilty Except for Insanity (GEI) for a non-violent crime and being an in-patient at the Oregon State Hospital" for more than four years. The complaint continues that Jones wanted to go through the GFU program to help others who were experiencing mental health challenges.
Jones's counsel, Portland-based lawyer Judy Snyder, said she did not believe it was appropriate to comment to the press at this time regarding the lawsuit. Likewise, GFU spokesman Rob Felton said they don't comment on ongoing litigation and "federal privacy laws prevent us from discussing student records."
In August 2009, Jones, 58, broke into her ex-husbands home, breaking several of his possessions. She was committed to the care of the Psychiatrist Review Board in January of 2010, after entering the GEI on charges of first-degree burglary, criminal mischief, attempted arson, two counts of stalking and contempt of court for violating a restraining order he ex-husband had filed.
In 2016, the Psychiatrist Review Board modified the order of Jones's conditional release, which had been signed in April 2015 to include new conditions. These included housing stipulations, requirement for Jones to participate in a treatment program, reporting guidelines for her progress and other requirements, such as not allowing her to possess alcohol or drugs.
The complaint states Jones sent in her application and received a call from program director Dr. Daniel Sweeney, who said he and faculty members were concerned she might not be ready for the program. Jones told Sweeney to speak to her case manager and therapist, which he did, and afterward Jones was allowed to participate in the interview process and was ultimately accepted into the program.
Because she suffers from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Jones applied for and was approved for reasonable accommodations for testing and quizzing, including extra time, a separate location, use of a computer and other accommodations.
Jones performed well in the program and was invited to share her mental health story with others.
In September 2017, Jones applied for the GFU clinical internship to begin the following summer, which is required for the program. Her application was accepted and approved. In December 2017, she attended a mandatory internship orientation and fair, where she was approached by a faculty member telling her it could be helpful if Jones got help on how to integrate her GEI into the internship. The faculty member said Jones could make an appointment with either of the two clinical internship faculty leaders, Dr. Michelle Engblom-Deglmann or Dr. Beronica Salazar. Jones approached Engblom-Deglmann during a break seeking that guidance.
"Dr. Engblom-Deglmann asked if Ms. Jones disclosed her conviction on her application, to which Ms. Jones responded that the GEI was not a conviction," the complaint states.
Jones applied for an internship with the clinic and left her materials with the clinic director, Dr. Chris Cleaver. Nearly three weeks later, she emailed Cleaver again with her materials.
Nearly a month after the fair, she was informed she was not selected for the internship, which Cleaver said selection for was "purely subjective." She then contacted Cleaver and disclosed her PTSD and how it grew in crowded spaces like the internship fair. She was invited to participate in the internship group interviews in January 2018, and she later requested another reasonable accommodation request, where she disclosed to Cleaver her GEI and activism and advocacy experience. She participated in the group interviews but was not selected.
Jones contacted Cleaver, saying she was concerned she wasn't selected because of discrimination and the lack of reasonable accommodation. In February, she submitted a formal complaint.
On Feb. 13, she was offered an internship with another program and her application was approved by GFU. She applied for and received housing arrangements and liability insurance.
When she attempted to enroll in summer classes to take along with the internship, she was unable to do so as her internship site information was still being processed. She was concerned classes would fill, but the program director said there would be a faculty meeting to discuss some concerns over Jones.
Jones said she was concerned she was being discriminated against based on her mental health history, her GEI and that she was being retaliated against for filing a grievance. Jones attended a meeting with faculty to discuss her grievance and department chairman Dr. Keith Dempsey concluded there was no discrimination.
The complaint states Dempsey said he would give Jones a copy of the rubric used to score students who interviewed for the clinic, although she said she never received it.
Dempsey said there were concerns about Jones, "stating there were some professional areas they are seeing outside of class, that present a different Ms. Jones than what they've seen in class."
"Dr. Dempsey stated that Ms. Jones went from 0 to 100 very fast and did not give Dr. Cleaver an opportunity to engage before she filed a formal grievance," the complaint reads. "Dr. Berardi stated that Ms. Jones was assuming a combative stance wit Dr. Cleaver and the way she was managing her anxiety over the past week raised a series of red flags. She stated that Ms. Jones' response to Dr. Cleaver could cause an agency to say, 'Whoa, I don't need to take on a volunteer that's already going to go legal on me.'"
Jones, in her discrimination complaint, has requested a jury trial and up to $670,000 in economic and compensatory damages.
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