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Owner of late bulldog Maddie suing Gonzaga for discrimination

SPOKANE, Wash - The owner of a bulldog once portrayed as an unofficial mascot of Gonzaga University is now suing Gonzaga, accusing the university of discrimination.

The trial of Waite v. Gonzaga University got underway Monday in federal court in Spokane. Among the accusations is that Gonzaga did not allow her to bring Maddie, a bulldog, to sporting events. The "why" for that is in dispute in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Joanne Waite has worked for Gonzaga for 10 year, most recently as the Director of Sponsored Research and Programs and Research Integrity Officer.

Waite has diabetes and also suffers from a neurological disorder, which the suit claims is covered under the American Disabilities Act. The suit says that Waite provided a letter from her doctor for ergonomic accommodations to be made, including a sit/stand desk, desk chair, foot rest and ergonomic computer mouse. The suit alleges it took six weeks for Gonzaga to make those accomodations.

In December 2014, Waite obtained a doctor's note saying her service dog alerted her if her blood sugar was off and that her dog should be allowed at work.

Gonzaga agreed to allow Maddie the bulldog to come to work and did not require Waite to provide any special licenses or registration to be on campus, according to the lawsuit.

Later, though, Waite says she was told she was not allowed to bring Maddie to Gonzaga sporting events; the lawsuit says state and federal laws require Gonzaga to allow service dogs in areas that are open to the public.

According to a response to the lawsuit, Gonzaga says Waite "used Gonzaga's reputation, mascot reference and images" to further her own for-profit business. The university also says Waite used Gonzaga's name, equipment, property and other resources in her personal business dealings.

The university says Waite was told "Maddie [was] not to be positioned or promoted in ways that lead the public to believe she is officially sanctioned, licensed, sponsored or authorized by Gonzaga University as a representative, trademark or identifying asset of the University." 

Waite says Gonzaga discriminated against her by not allowing Maddie to come to sporting events. She also accuses the university of a "pattern and practice of discriminating against women staff over 40 years of age."

Gonzaga's response to the lawsuit says that women make up 55 percent of the university's workforce; 63 percent, it says, are over 40.

In 2016, Gonzaga placed Waite on leave for what it calls a "confidential whistleblower complaint that was submitted and filed against her." The university says her leave was continued "to address her counter-complaint of workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation" that was filed and submitted after the whistleblower complaint. 

Waite says Gonzaga has used Maddie's image for multiple publications and marketing materials since 2009 and that she was never compensated for that. The suit says the university asked her to stop associating the dog with the university in April 2014, then used Maddie's picture on a 2014 Thanksgiving card that was sent to alumni.

Maddie died in 2017.

In its response to the lawsuit, "Gonzaga admits it had an informal agreement to use Ms. Waite's bulldog Maddie for marketing and communication purposes. Gonzaga admits there may have been inadvertent use of Ms. Waite's bulldog in publication without her permission." Gonzaga also admits Waite was never compensated for "the use of her bulldog." 

Gonzaga says that in 2016 Waite failed to update the documentation needed to keep her sit-stand desk, despite being repeatedly asked for updated documentation. Those accommodations were removed.

Waite says Gonzaga's failure to accommodate her caused her condition to worse and put her at risk for falls. In 2017, she slipped and fell outside of the Bing Crosby House at Gonzaga and suffered a closed head injury. She made a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries, which she said Gonzaga tried to sabotage.

In her lawsuit, Waite us suing for disability discrimination, failure to reasonably accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, retaliation, sex discrimination, age discrimination, unfair practices to person with a service dog and emotional distress. 



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