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The boy Steven Heffron is six years old and has Down syndrome Photo by Thinkstock
<p>The boy, Steven Heffron, is six years old and has Down syndrome. (Photo by Thinkstock).</p>

Mom Sues Ohio YMCA, Claims Son with Down Syndrome Was Excluded from Programs

The suit accuses the YMCA of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

The Great Miami Valley YMCA, Ohio, is being sued in federal court by a mother who accuses the Y of limiting her son's participation in its programs.

The boy, Steven Heffron, is six years old and has Down syndrome. His mother, Denise Watts, claims the Y insisted Heffron attend a camp solely for children with disabilities instead of its regular summer camp program. (Read the full complaint at the bottom of this page.)

The suit accuses the YMCA of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

YMCA attorney Michael Hawkins said safety "is the organizations number one priority," in a statement provided to NBC News. Hawkins said the children in the general summer program "simultaneously participate in the same activities and programs as children without developmental disabilities."

Watts worked part-time at the YMCA for years and said she was fired for advocating for Heffron, according to the complaint.

Watts also said the YMCA removed Heffron from a before-school program in August 2014 and restricted his time in an after-school program to under 30 minutes. She recommended other accommodations for Heffron in those programs, but the YMCA ignored those requests, according to the complaint.

Watts said the YMCA left Heffron unattended while enrolled in child care programs and was required to report those incidents to the state of Ohio. Those reports resulted in a downgrade to the YMCA's regulatory status and United Way funding. The YMCA limited Heffron's participation in its program to maintain its regulatory status and United Way funding in response, according to the complaint.

An exhibit in the complaint showed that Heffron's photograph was used in YMCA marketing materials.

The suit asks the court for a jury trial and:

  • A declaration that the Great Miami Valley YMCA failed to provide reasonable modifications to its practice and procedures for the benefit of Heffron in its summer camp program, before-school program and after-school program.
  • Injunctive relief requiring the YMCA to provide reasonable accommodations to Heffron in the programs and equally include him in its programs.
  • Compensatory damages in amounts to be determined by a jury.
  • Punitive damages for the YMCA's intentional injurious conduct, legal fees and other relief the court deems just and proper.
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