College admissions scandal: Stanford students file civil lawsuit amid 'bribing scheme' controversy

Clémence Michallon
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The US college admissions scandal didn't surprise me — I saw it from the inside

The US college admissions scandal didn't surprise me — I saw it from the inside

Two Stanford students have filed a civil lawsuit alleging they were denied a fair opportunity to be admitted to Yale and the University of Southern California – amid the ongoing college admissions scandal in which 50 people are accused of participating in what authorities have described as a large-scale bribery scheme.

Lawsuits began emerging on Wednesday, a day after federal prosecutors said a California company made about $25m from parents seeking spots for their children in top schools including Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California and Yale University.

Fifty people, including 33 parents, have been criminally charged in the nation’s largest known college admissions scandal. The accused mastermind, William Singer, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

In one civil lawsuit, Stanford students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods said they were denied a fair shot to gain admission to Yale and USC because of alleged racketeering, and said their degrees from Stanford will be devalued.

Singer and eight schools, including Stanford, were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Another lawsuit by Joshua Toy and his mother said he was denied college admission despite a 4.2 grade point average, and seeks $500bn of damages from 45 defendants for allegedly defrauding and inflicting emotional distress on everyone whose “rights to a fair chance” to enter college was stolen.

The defendants in that case include Singer and accused parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, and TPG private equity partner William McGlashan Jr.

“These class-action cases are opportunistic creatures of lawyers trying to obtain a windfall,” Donald Heller, a lawyer for Singer, said in a phone interview.

Both lawsuits were filed in California. More suits are likely to follow.

Prosecutors allege that Singer used his Edge College & Career Network and an affiliated nonprofit to help prospective students cheat on college admission tests and bribe coaches to inflate their athletic credentials.

The Stanford case is notable because that school is among the country’s most prestigious and selective, admitting just 4.3 per cent of its applicants last year.

But Olsen and Woods said their degrees are “now not worth as much” because prospective employers might question whether they were admitted on merit, or had parents whose bribes got them in.

A Stanford spokesman said the university is reviewing the lawsuit.

Additional reporting by agencies