Federal class action suit alleges unfair admissions process

Daily Trojan file photo

Three students and two parents have filed a class action lawsuit against USC, UCLA, Stanford, Yale and several other universities claiming they were denied fair opportunities for admission Thursday, according to the complaint obtained by the Daily Trojan.

The suit follows an FBI investigation that uncovered a nationwide college admissions scam at several universities, including USC.

The suit alleges that, while the students were qualified applicants, they were rejected by various schools involved in the investigation because the universities’ admissions processes did not put the students’ applications under fair consideration.

“Each of the qualified, rejected students was damaged by the fraudulent and negligent conduct of the Defendants in that, at a minimum, each Class member paid college admission application fees to the Defendant universities without any understanding or warning that unqualified students were slipping in through the back door of the admissions process,” the lawsuit read. 

“We believe the lawsuit filed by the students against Stanford is without merit,” Stanford Media Relations wrote in a statement. “We take the issues raised through the events of this week very seriously. While we continue to closely examine our policies and processes to see if improvements should be made, we stand behind the integrity of our admissions process.”

Businessman William “Rick” Singer was also named as a defendant in the suit Wednesday.

Singer ran The Edge College & Career Network, a for-profit college counseling company accused of running the student-athlete scam, which saw over 20 students admitted to USC under false pretenses as athletic recruits.

The suit also stated that, while each university described its admission process as fair and merit-based, this was not true in the actual admission decisions. The suit claims the universities knew or should have known about the alleged college admissions scam because the bribe money went to university accounts or prominent officials.

According to the FBI investigation, 50 celebrities, executives and professors participated in a racketeering scheme in which parents paid universities to grant their children admission under false pretenses.

USC declined multiple requests for comment. 

According to the lawsuit, the universities violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits false advertising, among other anti-competitive practices.

“To represent to students that the application process is based on merit, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to rampant bribery going on with the university’s employees, constitutes a violation of the UCL,” the lawsuit read.

The suit claims all students or their parents paid admissions fees between $50 and $100 to each university without knowledge of the “bribery scheme” that was exposed by the FBI investigation. Stanford student Kalea Woods, who also applied to and was rejected by USC, wouldn’t have applied if she knew about the scandal, the lawsuit alleged.

“Had [Woods] known that the system at USC was warped and rigged by fraud, she would not have spent the money to apply to the school,” the lawsuit read. “She also did not receive what she paid for — a fair admissions consideration process.”

Woods and Stanford student Erica Olson were the original plaintiffs in the suit, but Olson has since dropped out.

While there are currently five plaintiffs, the suit stated that based on the number of students rejected each year by each university in the investigation, thousands more could join the class action.

In addition to the class action suit filed against USC, Jennifer Toy, a former Oakland Unified School District teacher, filed a $500 billion class action lawsuit against actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with dozens of other wealthy parents involved in the scheme, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Toy alleges that the bribery and fraud scam prevented her son from being admitted to several colleges named in the FBI investigation. The suit, filed in the San Francisco County Superior Court, estimates that the cheating scandal has affected more than a million people and seeks $500 billion in damages from families implicated in the scandal, including several USC parents.