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Woman who says she was kept out of Ohio State program because of Crohn's diseases can sue

CINCINNATI — A woman with Crohn’s disease who alleges Ohio State University discriminated against her when she applied for a doctoral program because of her health can continue with a lawsuit, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a lower court was wrong in dismissing the suit. A magistrate earlier found that Caitlin Sjostrand lacked sufficient evidence that would allow a jury to find the school rejected her application to a doctoral program in school psychology because of her illness, a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

The school stated that her application was rejected because she was a better fit for the counseling program, among other reasons.

The three-judge panel ruled that while a jury might find the school’s stated reasons for rejecting Sjostrand’s application credible, there was enough evidence to create an issue as to whether they were the real reason for the rejection.

“The issue is one for the jury to decide,” the appeals ruling said.

The state university is represented by the Ohio attorney general’s office, which declined to comment Monday.

Sjostrand, of Newark, filed the lawsuit in 2011, alleging OSU violated her rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. A magistrate granted summary judgment to OSU last year, dismissing the case.

Sjostrand alleges her two interviews with professors in the doctoral program focused mostly on her ailment. The professors questioned her at length about her ability to handle the stress and workload of the program given her disease, her lawsuit stated. Stress may aggravate the symptoms of Crohn’s, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

The appeals court noted that Sjostrand, who graduated from OSU’s Newark campus in two and a half years, had a grade-point average tied for highest in the applicant pool and was the only one of the seven applicants rejected.

OSU offered an “overarching” reason — that she was a better fit for the counseling program — for rejecting her application, and added more specific concerns related to her responses on her written application, according to the appeals court. But the record indicates that the interviews didn’t include any questions about those specific concerns, the appeals ruling stated.

Sjostrand’s lawsuit seeks a judgment that she was discriminated against and unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

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