Update: Two students have dropped out of the federal lawsuit and two others are continuing pursue legal action through a new suit filed on Friday, March 15. Read the story here.
A group of students, including from Stanford University, have filed a class-action lawsuit in response to a nationwide college admissions scandal that laid bare an application process they allege was "corrupted by rampant fraud and back-door bribery."
An initial complaint, filed Wednesday by Stanford students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, names as defendants Stanford; William "Rick" Singer, the alleged mastermind behind the fraud scheme, and his businesses; as well as the University of Southern California, Yale University, Georgetown University, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University and the University of California, Los Angeles.
In an amended complaint filed on Thursday, Olsen dropped out of the suit and six new plaintiffs were added. The new plaintiffs include students who were rejected from the named colleges and universities. They are all seeking reimbursement for application fees they paid "under the assumption that the college application process at these universities was fair and impartial," the suit states.
Singer pleaded guilty this week to racketeering, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud. He has been accused of bribing college athletic coaches, including Stanford's head sailing coach; running a sham charity organization; and falsifying athletic profiles and SAT and ACT scores, including on behalf of local parents and students.
As a result of the "coordinated fraudulent bribery schemes, conducted through wire and mail fraud, unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission," the class-action suit states.
The universities involved are also at fault, the lawsuit alleges. They 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."
In a statement, Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda said the lawsuit 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," he said.
In the initial complaint, the Stanford students alleged their degree is "now not worth as much as it was before, because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having parents who were willing to bribe school officials." This allegation is not included in the amended complaint.
The class-action lawsuit seeks to recoup applications fees on behalf of any affected students -- defined as anyone who between 2012 and 2018 applied to UCLA, USC, USD, Stanford, UT-Texas at Austin, Wake Forest, Georgetown or Yale; paid an admission application fee to one or more of these universities and was denied admission.
The actions of the universities also warrant "punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish" them and "deter future conduct," the lawsuit states.
Olsen and Woods did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawyers who filed the complaint did not respond to questions about why Olsen dropped out, nor to reports that two other named plaintiffs said they did not give permission to be included in the case. They declined an interview request.
"The students who filed the complaint didn't receive what they paid for—to participate in an application process free of fraud," Lindsey Carr, director of administration for Minnesota law firm Zimmerman Reed, said in a statement. "It's a straightforward claim and a simple remedy. The students want their money back."
A parent also filed a $500 billion civil lawsuit in San Francisco on Wednesday claiming her son was not admitted to some colleges due to the admissions scheme, Reuters reported.
How Stanford is responding
In a new webpage released on Thursday, Stanford detailed steps it is taking in response to the allegations in this case.
The university has started a process to confirm whether any other staff members beyond the sailing coach were involved and is figuring out "the most appropriate way to redirect" the financial contributions made to the sailing team "to an entity unaffiliated with Stanford, consistent with the regulations concerning such gifts."
A total of $770,000 was contributed by Singer's fraudulent foundation to the sailing program, in the form of three separate gifts, according to the university. Some of this money was associated with a current Stanford student who did not receive a recommendation from the head sailing coach and has no affiliation with the team.
"We are working to better understand the circumstances around this student and will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what we learn," Stanford said.
Stanford has confirmed that all sailing team members who received an athletic recommendation when they applied, going back to 2011, had "legitimate sailing credentials, prior to admission."
For any students who submitted inaccurate applications, they could be disenrolled from the university or have their admission canceled -- which has happened in the past, Stanford said.
Stanford is also reviewing its own policies and processes related to financial contributions -- to "re-examine those checks and balances to determine what, if any, additional controls may be implemented to prevent such abuses in the future."
The university also defended the integrity of its donations process, insisting that Stanford "does not accept gifts if it knows a gift is being made with the intention of influencing the admission process."
"A donation does not purchase a place at Stanford, and we work very hard to ensure that prospective donors to Stanford understand this," the university said.
• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.