Georgia State student accuses university of discrimination

A Georgia State University student is locked in a battle with administrators and faculty over her claims that the university violated federal policy by not providing adequate options for her to complete coursework while pregnant.

The student, Whitney Shepherd, 26, a senior chemistry major, asked for a laboratory assistant to perform experiments for a class after she disclosed her pregnancy in December. She said the request and other options, such as writing additional papers for the class, were denied. Shepherd and faculty were concerned about harmful effects of lab chemicals to her and the developing baby.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Shepherd, contends GSU is prohibited from excluding pregnant students from their courses or denying their requests for reasonable accommodations under federal Title IX policy, which forbids sex discrimination by schools that receive federal aid.

The ACLU noted that Georgia State lists lab assistants as a “valuable reasonable accommodation” on its Disabilities Services website. Georgia State said Title IX does not include such requirements.

Shepherd filed a complaint with the university in late January.

The ACLU and the National Women’s Law Center, based in Washington, D.C., wrote a letter to university administrators earlier this month advocating for Shepherd. Her attorneys gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a letter Georgia State sent the student Monday that restated its position and disputed the accuracy of some of Shepherd’s claims.

“Ms. Shepherd has been afforded the equal access required by Title IX…She has not been required to take certain classes or prohibited from taking certain classes,” wrote Jeannie Barrett, Georgia State’s senior associate general counsel.

Shepherd, who had her child last month, believes the university’s position is discriminatory against women in a field of study where they are in small numbers.

“I want to represent all those women out there who want careers in science and still want to be a mom and raise a family,” Shepherd, an aspiring chemist, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Emma Roth, an attorney representing Shepherd, said Tuesday their side are considering their next steps. Shepherd is still hoping to get credit for the class.