Ward vs. Eastern Michigan University Settled Out of Court

Julea Ward was kicked out of the MA program at Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program because she refused to counsel  against what she said her religious beliefs required. She referred a gay student after consulting with her supervisor and the program faculty believed she had violated ethics. She sued over her dismissal and after losing the first round, prevailed on appeal with the 6th Circuit Court. However, rather than defend the expulsion of Ward another time, the University settled the case out of court yesterday with a payment of $75k going to Ward. The Detroit Free Press has the summary. See also Inside Higher Ed.

Since the beginning of the case (2009), I have not commented on this situation because I served as an expert witness on behalf of Ward throughout the case. My interest in the case was not to defend Ward’s decision not to counsel a gay student but rather to preserve the ability of counselors to refer in situations of moral conflict. In recent years, the American Counseling Association has been moving toward a position where counselors are considered to be acting unethically if they refer a client to another counselor for almost any reason. By this standard, if a Christian client wants an atheist counselor to affirm Christian teaching, the atheist should do so and work within the client’s system. One can imagine numerous pairings that would be problematic for both client and counselor. Given that counselors are human beings with ambivalence and biases, I think it is very important for the welfare of clients to allow referral when a counselor is bothered by what seems like a moral dilemma.

Thus, I saw this case as much broader than a gay rights case. Some readers might be surprised that I provided expert testimony on Ward’s behalf. I would not have done the same thing as Ward did. However, counselors who are not ready to work with various populations should not do so without help. Referral must be preserved as an option for the many personal and moral conflicts which can arise in counseling.

The dismissal is here and the 6th Circuit court of appeal decision (note the focus in this decision on referral) is here.

As a part of this case, my approach to these issues (sexual identity therapy) was misrepresented at various levels. I intend to now set those matters straight. More about that to come.

  • inca nitta

    While, it’s definitely a victory for Ms. Ward (btw, I heard that she is currently pursuing a counseling degree through Regents University online) because she $75,000, I am still unsure if any other conservative Christian students like her will not receive unwelcome treatments from their liberal secularist professors at EMU’s counseling program, in the future.

  • inca nitta

    a typo, because she collected $75, 000.

  • ken

    As I mentioned last time the Ward case came up (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/things-get-ugly-in-illinois/comment-page-1/#comment-395653), if this had simply been about a licensed counselor giving a referral for a patient she didn’t believe she could properly treat, then I would agree with you Warren. However, to me, this case was about a University setting specific standards its graduates must meet in order to maintain the integrity of their degree program.

  • Mary

    I’m with you Warren. This was about remaining true to the client and the counselor. If there is a moral conflict then refer the person on. It has nothing to do with gay or whatever. Just conflict where the client would be better suited with another counselor.

  • inca nitta

    Ken,

    I think you are right about what you said in your last paragraph: the lawsuit was about the University setting specific standards for their MS in Counseling program, and these particular standards appeared legally questionable to the defendant. To me, it appeared like the University was fine with their students referring all patients in case a conflict of interest arise, with an exception for patients such as teenagers wanting to have premarital sex, women wanting to perform abortions, and non-celibate gays. As far as I understand the ACA Code of Ethics, there is no distinction regarding who can and cannot be referred whenever a moral dilemma arises between a counselor and a patient.

  • ken

    inca nitta says:

    December 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    “To me, it appeared like the University was fine with their students referring all patients in case a conflict of interest arise, with an exception for patients such as teenagers wanting to have premarital sex, women wanting to perform abortions, and non-celibate gays. ”

    I’m curious as to where you got this impression about the University’s policies regarding referrals.

    Did you follow the link to the previous discussion? If you do, you should see that, while the focus was on the referral, there was more than just a referral issue. There was a department hearing (because of the referral) that Ward testified at. And her testimony at that hearing indicated that Ward was willing to discard research based on her religious beliefs (ex: Ward testified she believe homosexuality was a choice).

  • inca nitta

    I got my impression after reading the decision of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • inca nitta

    Also Warren,

    If you ever read the decision of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for this case (it’s rather long, though), you will see that the Court has found evidence that Ward was trying to get help from her professors by asking them what she should do, but it was them who told her to refer the patient, and after that they told she behaved unethically, despite the fact that the University had no official “NO Referral” policy for practicum students. Thus, the Court found their actions to be very problematic.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    inca nitta – As noted I was an expert for Ward and am quite familiar with the documents in the case.

  • inca nitta

    Then, I’m somewhat surprised by your statement in the OP, when you said that you wouldn’t do what Ward did and recommended that students in similar situations should require help. As far as I can see, she asked her professors for help, but the professors did all they could to seek retaliation against her. If they REALLY wanted her to learn how to be a better counselor, they should have not referred the patient, but let her counsel him, observe her, make corrections, etc. That’s why their actions are so problematic.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    ken – I recognize that the facts in this case are not perfect. However, referral is endangered in the professions and I believed this case would turn on it. As it turns out, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court agreed with me on referral and we now have that excellent foundation to protect the practice.

  • Patrocles

    Now THAT is’ the Dr. Throckmorton whom I’ve recommended to my German readers in the net, for twenty or thirty times. Thumbs up!!!!

  • ken

    inca nitta says:

    December 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    “I got my impression after reading the decision of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

    Can you post the specific passages (or just post the page number/paragraph)?

    I’ve read the entire decision and I see nothing that supports the notion the University would allow any referral except in cases of abortion, teen sex, pre-marital sex, non-celibate gays.

  • inca nitta

    Ken,

    That was the opinion of the judges where they’ve stated that University was allowing to practice referral for its practicum students for secular reasons but not for religious ones. I’m assuming it implies issued mentioned above, because such issues are religious. However, now it does not matter whether the judges were right or wrong because the case got settled out of court.

  • inca nitta

    Here is my honest analysis of the whole situation: Dr. T. was giving an honest realistic on how imperative it would be to allow referrals over moral dilemmas that occasionally happen between counselors and patients. Dr. T. was making compelling argument hot such measures would benefit the patients and the mental health profession, overall, because in reality, not every counselor despite his or her best intentions, is the right counselor for every client. What I saw the key point among the people who supported EMU, was the position such as that while referall is generally allowed, every counselor MUST be the right one for every patient who identifies as LGBT. In other words, they were making an argument that LGBT people are special clients and no licensed counselor should have a moral dilemma about their relationships, in my opinion.

  • ken

    inca nitta says:

    December 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    “That was the opinion of the judges where they’ve stated that University was allowing to practice referral for its practicum students for secular reasons but not for religious ones. ”

    Again, I’d ask you to cite the specific text where it says the university would allow referrals in all cases except in cases of abortion, teen sex, pre-marital sex, non-celibate gays. I see nothing in the decision that supports that claim.

  • inca nitta

    Ken,

    They didn’t phrase it like that, they said the University allowed referrals for secular purposes but not for religious ones, but I think that any reasonable person would come to concusion that the issues mentioned above are implied.


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