Anyone who works frequently with employment counsel has heard the words “it depends” – it (the answer to a question) depends on the specific facts and circumstances at issue, which should be analyzed and discussed before a course of action is determined.
Two recent cases illustrate this point. Both cases arose out of similar, but not identical, situations.
In Ward v. Polite, et al, Julea Ward was a graduate-level counseling student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) who, as a graduation prerequisite, enrolled in a counseling practicum that required her to participate in one-on-one counseling sessions with real clients. EMU policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and teaches students to affirm a client’s values during counseling sessions. When the university asked Ms. Ward to counsel a gay client, Ms. Ward, a devout Christian whose values prevented her from affirming a client’s same-sex relationships, asked her faculty supervisor either to refer the client to another student or to permit her to begin counseling and make a referral if the counseling session turned to relationship issues. Although EMU referred the client to another counselor, it initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Ward and, ultimately, expelled her from the program. In support of its decision, EMU claimed it had a “no referral” policy and that Ms. Ward’s actions violated the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics.
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