March 2019

Rejected students sue for return of application fees against universities linked to admissions scandal

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

A group of students and parents have filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status against the University of Southern California, UCLA, Georgetown, Stanford, University of San Diego, University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest and Yale – colleges named in this week’s admissions scandal, stating their admissions process was "warped and rigged by fraud."

Prosecutors revealed Tuesday that 50 people, including 33 parents and number of a college coaches, face charges in carrying out a scheme in which wealthy people used their money to fraud the admissions system at some of the nation’s most elite universities. As a result, the Plaintiffs allege in part negligence, unfair competition and violations of consumer law, according to an amended lawsuit that was filed on Thursday in US District Court for the North District of California.

The lawsuit names Stanford University, USC, UCLA, University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest, Yale and Georgetown universities as defendants. The students and parents in the lawsuit said they spent money to apply to schools named in the college admissions scandal and attorneys say they wouldn’t have applied had they known about the alleged scheme. The lawsuit states "had Plaintiffs known that the system was warped and rigged by fraud, they would not have spent the money to apply to the school, they also did not receive what they paid for – a fair admissions consideration process." The lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive damages, restitution and other relief deemed proper by court.

"The students who filed the complaint didn’t receive what they paid for – to participate in an application process free of fraud," said David Cialkowski, an attorney for the students. "It’s a straightforward claim and a simple remedy. The students want their money back. They request that anyone who paid an application fee to any of the eight named universities but was denied admission gets their application fee returned."

One of the plaintiffs, Lauren Fiedlak, got a 34 on her ACT and a 4.0 grade point average, yet she was denied admission at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, according to the suit. She had an emotional breakdown requiring hospitalization because of the rejections, the suit said.

This case – the college admissions scandal or as it was named in the FBI investigation Operation Varsity Blues – has been a hot topic all week. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Sources: CNN; ABA Journal

-Attorney Kendall Hodges


Defining Disability

Monday, March 4th, 2019

From the "How is this still an open question" file comes the case of Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, 17-3058 and 18-2199 (7th Circuit). This case, currently awaiting decision from the appeal court, asks whether or not obesity can qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its amendments.

The plaintiff, a bus driver for the CTA, alleges that he was terminated as a result of his obesity after coming back to work from a medical absence and being subjected to a "safety assessment" that non-obese employees were not required to pass. The facts, while not entirely agreed upon, are straightforward in that the CTA doesn’t really deny that he was referred to the assessment as a result of his weight, and that his weight was a factor in their failing him, leading to his inability to continue driving.

The cause of Richardson’s current legal dispute is that the current accepted standard (where it has been addressed by circuit courts, anyway) for an obesity-connected disability requires an underlying condition causing the disability. That is, if you have an underlying physiological disorder causing the obesity itself, then it qualifies as a disability. If the obesity cannot be connected to a preexisting disorder, then the employee is not protected. The district court in this case agreed with that precedent. Richardson, appealing that decision, is arguing that obesity in and of itself qualifies as a possible grounds for discrimination on the basis of physical impairment.

On the other hand, Richardson has the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency body which actually enforces the ADA, on his side, as well as a number of lower district court decisions around the country. In addition, a number of entities, including the AARP and various medical advocacy organizations, have filed "friend of the court" briefs with the 7th circuit in this case urging the court to consider new medical evidence in making their decision.

Obviously, this is an important clarification for the court to make. If it finds for Richardson it would make the seventh circuit the first court to rule that weight itself can qualify as a disability entitled to ADA protections, and would effectively expand those protections to a great number of workers. It would also set up a rather significant disagreement over the interpretation of the law between the seventh circuit and several other circuits, potentially setting up a Supreme Court challenge down the line.

Attorney Travis Dunn