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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake Community College violated federal civil rights laws when a professor advised a pregnant student struggling with acute morning sickness to drop a class and the college did not engage in a process to provide her accommodations, according to a review by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
According to an agency press release, the college violated Title IX when it failed "to respond promptly and equitably to the student's complaint of pregnancy discrimination" and "engage in an interactive process with the student to determine the appropriate special services and/or academic adjustments to provide in light of her pregnancy."
Title IX was also violated when the college failed "to excuse her absences related to pregnancy, provide her the opportunity to make up work missed due to these pregnancy-related absences, or provide her with alternatives to making up missed work at a later date."
The investigation found that while the college's Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities directs students to contact SLCC's Title IX coordinator if they believe they have been discriminated against, the code does not mention pregnancy.
"Similarly, the college's Title IX website contains no information regarding how a student may file a complaint alleging pregnancy discrimination," according to a letter from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights to SLCC President Deneece G. Huftalin.
Some of the college's commitments under the voluntary resolution agreement with the federal agency include:
- Revising its nondiscrimination notice and grievance procedures to comply with Title IX.
- Publishing information on its website for pregnant students about their Title IX rights and how to seek academic adjustments, special services or excused absences.
- Training its Title IX coordinator, disabilities resource center staff and other school employees regarding Title IX's and Section 504's protections for pregnant students and the academic adjustments and special services available to pregnant students.
In a statement from SLCC, the college emphasized it is "dedicated to creating an inclusive, welcoming environment for all students and takes all complaints regarding discrimination seriously."
"We are working with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights to address this complaint and taking concrete steps to ensure reasonable accommodations are made moving forward.
"These steps include strengthening internal processes related to investigating complaints, improving student access to Title IX information, and evaluating and fulfilling requests for accommodation. We will also ensure all staff and faculty are properly trained on the procedures that must be followed when working with students in need of accommodation due to pregnancy."
In a statement, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon noted that as the 50th anniversary of Title IX approaches, "Salt Lake Community College's commitments ... take an important step to provide the equal access to education Congress has promised these 50 years.
"We look forward to working with Salt Lake Community College to promote a nondiscriminatory educational environment by ensuring pregnant students' equal access to the college's offerings," Lhamon said.
The agency's letter to Huftalin notes that pregnancy is not itself a disability.
However, the student informed college officials that her pregnancy was causing acute morning sickness and on some days she could not eat or nausea lasted all day. She also provided medical documentation of the conditions.
"The Disabilities Resource Center, however, did not consider whether the complainant suffered from a temporary disability, but rather only referred her to the Title IX coordinator, who did not provide her with academic adjustments to accommodate her conditions caused by her pregnancy," the letter states.
The letter notes that the college refunded the student's tuition for the courses.