Schaumburg girl's discrimination lawsuit against Girl Scouts reinstated

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (WLS) -- Megan Runnion sued the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, alleging that the organization discriminated against her because she is deaf. The suit was thrown out a year and a half ago but the I-Team has learned it has been reinstated by the appellate court.

Runnion, of Schaumburg, may be deaf but her message is loud and clear. She'd been in Girl Scouts for six years. An interpreter was provided by the scouts so she could take part.

Read the full complaint here

But her family said when the organization stopped paying for the interpreter and put restrictions on their activities, the Girl Scouts eventually disbanded her troop. The girl's family sued, saying the Girl Scouts had run afoul of a federal law called the Rehabilitation Act.

"It's sad. The initial reaction is shocked, because I didn't really understand it," said Edie Runnion, Megan's mother.

That was what Edie told the I-Team in August 2012 when the family filed a lawsuit against the Girl Scouts for disbanding Megan's troop.

Megan - deaf since birth - had thrived in scouting, according to her mom.

"Megan loves camping. That's her favorite Girl Scout thing," Edie said.

Some Girl Scout troops, such as this one, are actually composed of all deaf children with interpreters provided by the scouts.

"Our membership does include girls who have hearing loss and other disabilities, and in those situations, we do work with those girls and those troops and those families to provide what they need to access girl scouting," said Julie Somogyi, Girl Scout Council of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

But Megan's family alleges when the Schaumburg troop pulled the plug on her interpreter and later disbanded, it was discrimination and retaliation by the Girl Scout Council of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana - that the group had violated the federal Rehabilitation Act.

Three months after filing the suit, Judge Harry Leinenweber threw it out, saying Megan's complaint hadn't sufficiently alleged that the Girl Scouts were subject to the Rehabilitation Act.

This new decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reverses that, allowing Megan's lawsuit to proceed against the Girl Scouts.

An attorney for the Runnion family says the appellate court "opinion confirms that private organizations that receive federal funding are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities."

The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana issued the following written statement late Thursday: "Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana is unable to comment on the specifics of pending litigation. We can confirm that Girl Scouts has a long history of adapting activities to girls who have disabilities, special needs and chronic illnesses. It is Girl Scout policy that admission or access to Girl Scout program shall not be denied based on disability and that reasonable accommodations shall be made for girls with disabilities to ensure that girls have access to activities."

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