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For week ended January 16, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

LDS Returned Missionary files Mental Health Bias Suit
Salt Lake Tribune 10Jan00 D2
By Dan Egan: Salt Lake Tribune

EPHRAIM, UTAH -- Michelle Larson, former Snow College student government president, only wanted to hear one word from the Snow College school administration. In late 1996 Michelle was put on medication to treat her manic depressive, bipolar disorder. When Larson returned from a doctor imposed 10-day hospital stay, Snow administrators put her on academic and "social" probation and demoted her from the position she held in her student government job.

At this time, administrators demanded Larson sign a "wellness contract" with included items she could be expelled for: failing to get six hours of sleep each night, a deterioration in her physical health, crying at school functions, and slandering the staff or faculty at Snow college. Larson and her family claimed the restrictions were outlandish and illegal and caused her to file a complaint with the federal government and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

"All I ever wanted from the beginning was an apology, and they wouldn't give it to me," she said. "I was the one who looked like the bad person," Larson said. "It was me fighting against all these people of high integrity and big degrees."

Snow is a public college and is subject to the provisions of the Americans Disabilities Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. OCR brokered a deal with Snow that included faculty and staff training on how to abide by the ADA as well and signed "wellness contracts" and the hiring of an ombudsman who administrates and fights for student's rights.

Gerald Day, President of Snow College, and John McAllister, Snow attorney recounted a rash of emotional confrontations Larson had with staff, her references to suicide and wild behavior that found her wandering into the wintry mountains in the middle-of-the-night. "We never faced anything like this before," Day said. "We didn't write our policies with any expectation that we would face the circumstances that we faced."

Larson, a returned missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and now a student at Utah State University, was eventually reinstated to her student government job at Snow. She claims the administration continued to harass and discriminate against her until she graduated in the spring of 1997. Larson's lawsuit names Snow College as well as six Snow administrators. She is seeking thousands of dollars in punitive damages for what she claims is discrimination on the basis of her disability. She also claims the her rights to free speech and due process were violated, when all she ever wanted was an apology.


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