Students, parents file suits over 'sanctity' of admissions process; one mom wants $500B

Image 1 of 2

Students and their parents are are suing a host of colleges and the alleged mastermind of a nationwide college scandal, alleging they were ripped off of admissions fees and one student saying she had a nervous breakdown when she didn't get into her first-choice universities, according to a suit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Thursday.

A  mother in a separate suit filed in San Francisco is asking for no less than $500 billion because her son, who had great grades, wasn't given a "fair chance."

In the South Bay case, the complaint supercedes a suit filed a day earlier by Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, two Stanford students.

Olsen dropped out of the suit on Thursday for reasons that weren't explained.

Instead, Irvine-based attorney John Medler and two other attorneys filed a suit on behalf Tyler Bendis, a community college student in Orange County, and his mother, Julia; Nicholas James Johnson, a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and his father, James.

The plaintiffs are suiing William "Rick" Singer, the Key WorldWide Foundation, the Edge College and Career Network, Stanford University, Yale University, the University of Southern California, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University and Georgetown University. All of the schools, they allege, were part of the national admissions scandal and were tainting with allowing cheating and accepting bribes.

Woods, 19, of San Diego remains a plaintiff. She did not return messages seeking comment and she deactivated her Facebook page by mid-Thursday morning.

While Woods is now attending Stanford, she said that she had nearly perfect scores, 32 on the ACT and 2100 on the SAT,  and had plenty of athletic skills. But when she applied to USC, which cost $85, she was rejected. She said she wasn't given a fair chance at admission. 

A Stanford spokesperson said in a statement, "We believe the lawsuit filed by the students against Stanford is without merit. 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." 

As San Jose-based attorney Steven Clark sees it, the plaintiffs are alleging that they wasted money on admissions fees to schools who didn't accept them.

He pointed out that the amended suit does not allege that the value of their degrees diminished because of the taint of the scandal.

"But how do you prove those things?" Clark asked. "This is headline-grabbing but I think they're going to have a big challenge in getting a court to certify it." 

Meanwhile, Jennifer Kay Toy, a former Oakland Unified School District and Pacifica Day teacher, filed suit in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleging her son, Josh, applied to some schools where the cheating took place and did not get in even though he had a 4.2 GPA. He didn't get a "fair chance," the suit said. She's suing the coaches and parents caught up in the scandal, not the universities. 

She's seeking damages of no less than $500 billion. KTVU was not able to reach Toy for comment.

These appear to be the first two lawsuits filed following federal prosecutors' announcement on Tuesday  unraveling a nationwide admissions scandal where parents would pay Singer, an admissions consultant, millions of dollars to bribe their children's way into college. Some of the payouts went to coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes, and Singer also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students' answers, authorities said. Singer began cooperating with authorities in September 2018 and he pleaded guilty Tuesday.

"Had the plaintiffs known that the system was warped and rigged by fraud, they would not have spent the money to apply to the school," the suit contends. "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 any understanding or warning that unqualified students were slipping in through the back door of the admissions precess by committing fraud, bribery, cheating and dishonesty." 

The suit alleges that as a result of the fraudulent bribery schemes, unqualified students got into these highly selective universities while "those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission."

The universities, the suit contends, were "negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in place to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process and to ensure that their own employees were not engaged in these type of bribery schemes."

Stanford University was specifically caught up in the scandal after the school's now-fired sailing coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty on Tuesday to accepting bribes.

According to a federal complaint announced on Tuesday, the 41-year-old coach agreed to hold open coveted admission spots at the highly competitive university for two applicants falsely portrayed as competitive sailors in exchange for payments to the sailing program. The students ultimately declined to enroll at Stanford, but the indictment alleges the sailing program received payments totaling $270,000 to fraudulently admit an unworthy applicant.

Stanford was not charged in the case, being prosecuted out of Boston, and neither were any of the schools or students where the alleged bribes took place. 

Later on Thursday, Stanford put out a full Q &A about what the university is doing about the allegation, acknowledging that a total of $770,000 was given to the sailing program in the form of three gifts from The Key Worldwide Foundation. Two were from students mentioned in the federal indictment, but who never attended Stanford. The university said the third student is currently enrolled at Stanford but got no recommendation from Vandemoer and has no affiliation with the sailing program.

"We are working to better understand the circumstances around this student and will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what we learn," the statement read.

As for the money that has already been spent by the sailing program, Stanford said: "We are working through the details, but our intention is to ensure that the total amount originally provided to the sailing program is redirected."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was edited on March 15, 2019 to take out the names of two plaintiffs who said that the attorney, John Medler, took their off the record information and made them part of the suit without their  consent. KTVU has reached out to Medler but has not heard back.