A former Pacific University doctoral student is suing the Forest Grove school, saying professors discriminated against her because she has disabilities. Rebekah Breyer, of Hillsboro, filed a lawsuit in federal court Jan. 9, alleging the private university discriminated against her because she has cerebral palsy. A movement disorder, cerebral palsy affects motor skills, often causing people with the condition to display exaggerated reflexes or involuntary motions. The condition has not stopped Breyer from earning a master’s degree in psychology but according to the lawsuit, Breyer’s professors regularly questioned her ability to complete the course because of her disability. Breyer
eventually dropped out of the program because of pressure from professors, she said. Breyer enrolled in Pacific’s then-named School of Professional Psychology in 2015.
The school, located at Pacific’s Hillsboro campus, 222 S.E. 8th Ave., was renamed the School of Graduate Psychology earlier this month. During a visit to the campus, Breyer said she was asked to return to the school for a follow-up interview with staff to “have a more detailed conversation about essential job functions specific to graduate students.” During that interview, school officials said they were “concerned” with Breyer’s ability to complete the program because of her disabilities and asked her to arrange blocks to show her motor functions, according to the lawsuit. Breyer alleged that the officials asked her “how children and adults react to her” and how she expected to obtain an internship with her disability.
Breyer was admitted to the program and she and her family moved to Oregon from Colorado to attend the university in August 2015, but her attorney, Shenoa Payne, wrote in the lawsuit that the school’s staff never supported the idea. “Although Ms. Breyer had been technically accepted into the program, it became evident that she would never be truly accepted,” the lawsuit claimed. After arriving, Breyer says she met with university staff to discuss her discomfort with how her application process went. She alleges she told the university that the way she was treated was likely illegal and staff at the school admitted they had no training or knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Breyer said things got worse once classes began. During one class, a professor allegedly singled Breyer out and asked her to explain her disability to the class as part of the lesson.
When she complained to the university again, she said, university officials asked her if the school was the “right fit” for her and suggested other career paths she could pursue, which would accommodate her physical limitations. One professor said she did not feel comfortable giving Breyer a practicum recommendation, saying she was not sure Breyer could do the work.
According t o Breyer, the university had no evidence that Breyer was unqualified or incapable of doing the work, but based their opinions on speculation about her disability. Breyer said that in October 2015, she asked the university to show examples of students performing the assessments and asked for an assistant to complete the manual dexterity portions of the test.
The school responded by saying Breyer would have to pay for the accommodation she requested, which Breyer said the university knew she could not afford. Breyer withdrew from the school on Nov. 3, 2015. The lawsuit is seeking economic damages of an unspecified amount, but said she would like the school to pay for the cost of her 2015 tuition, as well as expenses paid, interest on loans she received for schooling and future economic impairment she received related to the delay of obtaining her degree.
Breyer said she would like the school to also pay for her moving costs and the cost of mental health treatment she received as a result of the discrimination. Breyer said she suffered from emotional distress, mental suffering, loss of confidence, anxiety, depression and humiliation related to her alleged treatment at the school. Breyer said she would like to be reinstated at Pacific and asks that the university require staff to undergo training on how to treat students with physical disabilities. Pacific did not respond to a request for comment by the News-Times’ press deadline.
This article was originally published on Jan. 18 in the Forest Grove News Times. It was written by Geoff Pursinger, the Editor of the Hillsboro Tribune.
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