A federal court has concluded that the Ohio High School Athletic Association may be guilty of disability discrimination, even though it had no intention of doing so. The case illustrates an important point regarding Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The case involved a student with a learning disability who attends a private high school in Cincinnati. He wants to play soccer for his high school team. In Ohio, private schools are part of the OHSAA, so that’s not the issue. The problem is that he doesn’t live in Ohio—he lives across the river in Kentucky. The OHSAA has an “Instate Residency Rule” that simply says you have to live in Ohio to participate in interscholastic sports. There are some exceptions, but none that applied to this student. So his parents went to court to seek an injunction to allow him to play.
They got it.
The court ruled that the parents did not have to prove that the OHSAA acted with any sort of bad intention. They only had to prove that the Association refused to provide an accommodation that was reasonable. The requested accommodation would be deemed “reasonable” unless the OHSAA could prove that granting the request would create an undue burden, or require a fundamental alteration of the program.
The OHSAA was unable to convince the court that granting this waiver would open up the proverbial floodgates. Restricting participation to Ohio residents had no bearing on safety, and was not necessary to prevent “redshirting.” The court was convinced that the Association could craft a limited waiver process “based on easily verifiable, objective criteria” that “would apply to only a narrow pool of potential students, and would not result in a substantial administrative burden.”
The case is Steines v. Ohio High School Athletic Association, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio on November 10, 2014. We found it at 64 IDELR 165.
DAWG BONE: IF YOU CAN ACCOMMODATE THE DISABILITY WITHOUT “UNDUE BURDEN” OR “FUNDAMENTAL ALTERATION” YOU HAVE TO DO SO.