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Disability Rights Advocates Launch Class Action Against Stanford, Claiming Discrimination

— May 21, 2018

Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates is filing a class action against Stanford University on behalf of at least three students, all of whom, says the DRA, faced discrimination due to mental health issues.

First reported by The Fountain Hopper last Thursday, the suit alleges that Stanford placed three students on ‘involuntary leaves of absence’ after they reported suicidal ideation and self-harm. The university, claims Disability Rights Advocates, made no attempt to seek alternate accommodations or arrangements for any of the students.

Disability Rights Advocates says the action taken against their three clients is tantamount to discrimination. By evicting the students from campus housing and pressuring them to take leaves of absence, claims DRA, Stanford likely violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Despite being a highly selective university regularly ranked in the top five nationally and globally and charging tuition in the range of $50,000 per year, Stanford maintains antiquated policies, practices, and procedures related to mental health that violate anti-discrimination laws,” says the lawsuit.

One of the three students, named only as Jacob Z. by the suit, struggled with suicidal ideation and tendencies throughout the first quarter of 2018. Jacob Z. eventually checked into a hospital for treatment, where he was visited by a Stanford residence dean who claimed that J.Z. “caused his dormmates psychological harm” and had “been a disruption to the community.”

Before leaving, the dean told Jacob Z. that he couldn’t return to Stanford’s dorms – and if he did, legal consequences could be in store.

“Throughout this process,” alleges the suit, “Stanford has treated Jacob more as a legal liability than as a student.

“Stanford has aggravated Jacob’s stress with vague, incomplete information and complicated processes which he must navigate without assistance or explanation.”

Another plaintiff, listed as Tina Y, was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after being sexually assaulted during her first semester at Stanford. The next year, writes The Daily Californian, T.Y. was asked to avoid interacting with newly-admitted students and their families during an annual orientation.

An image of the main quadrangle of Stanford University. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:King of Hearts. (CCA-BY-3.0)

Tina Y. was threatened with an involuntary leave of absence “if she was perceived to be too much of a liability.” She, along with other students, was purportedly forced to partake in treatment courses and programs that her healthcare providers recommended against.

Rather than seeking monetary damages, writes the Stanford Daily, the plaintiffs ‘seek a court ruling on the rights of all […] students who have a mental health disability as well as a court order on Stanford’s actions in the future.’

The 34-page lawsuit and filing accuses Stanford of abandoning students in crises, punishing them for approaching campus administration and trying to get help.

“In a mental health crisis, Stanford should be working with students and their doctors, not making students apologize for being ill,” said attorney Monica Porter, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the DRA.

By and large, Stanford believes its employees didn’t break the law or engage in any illegal acts of discrimination.

“The University is mindful of our obligations in this area under the law and believes we have complied with the law,” said Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda.

The lawsuit doesn’t say why students like Tina Y. and Jacob Z. may have been deemed disruptive, instead insisting that they were punished only for undergoing crises and trying to seek help.


Berkeley disability rights group alleges mental health discrimination by Stanford University

Case 5:18-cv-02895


Lawsuit claims Stanford discriminated against three students with mental health disabilities

Lawsuit: Stanford violated students’ rights in mental health response

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