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Newsletter > January 2020 > "Emotional Support Bunny Case Has Settled"
Emotional Support Bunny Case Has Settled
Ilana Linder, Manley Burke LPA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity (“AOPi”) and Alpha Omicron Pi Properties, Inc. (“AOPi Properties”) have agreed to amend the sorority’s no-pet policy as part of a settlement related to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed against the two entities.
Kayla Hicks, a Michigan State University (“MSU”) student who suffered from anxiety, sought to bring her emotional support animal (“ESA”), a Netherland Dwarf rabbit named Sebastian, into the AOPi sorority house with her when she began living in the house. Despite submitting to the sorority the required ESA Owner Agreement, documentation of her disability and need for an accommodation, and proof that Sebastian was enrolled as an ESA with the National Service Animal Registry, AOPi informed Kayla that Sebastian presence in the house was not permitted.
After being told that Sebastian’s continued presence jeopardized her ability to continue living in the house, Kayla filed complaints with both the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging improper discrimination. She also filed suit in the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, court against AOPi and AOPi Properties, alleging violations of both the (federal) Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”) and the (state) Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Acts (“PWDCRA”). She sought both injunctive and compensatory damages.
The Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims brought under PWDCRA, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction on Kayla’s state law claims. Fortunately, the parties were able to settle the remaining FHAA claim, the terms of which will remain confidential.
AOP’I will now be amending its no-pet policy, which previously prohibited all pets except for fish (in tanks no larger than ten gallons) and service dogs, presumably to include another exception for other types of animals that serve legitimate medical-related needs. Other groups that also currently rely on general pet policies similar to AOP’Is may want to consider revising their own policies in light of the takeaway from this case: groups cannot rely on blanket “no-pet” policies to prohibit such service/emotional animals.