Attorney on college bribing scandal and lawsuit: 'This is a wake-up call'

By Carrie Bradon | Mar 23, 2019

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SAN FRANCISCO – A group of students who claim they weren't given a fair chance in getting admitted to their colleges of choice blame the well-publicized bribery scandal in a lawsuit filed in federal court on March 13. 

The lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods seek unspecified damages as well as a return of all application fees, claiming that they were not given a fair chance at admission. Defendants in the proposed class action suit include The University of Southern California, Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin and Georgetown University.

Bob Pees of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in New York commented on the lawsuit and the challenges that the students may face in the litigation process. 

"One of the challenges that the student plaintiffs face in pursuing this class action is the formidable obstacle of standing, under Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, a litigant has to have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is traceable to the alleged wrongdoing," Pees told the Northern California Record.

While some of the students allege that they are owed their application fees back, Pees said that there are important considerations to take into account, such as who paid those fees.

"It’s noteworthy that some of these schools that are defendants in the lawsuit were not schools that the particular named plaintiffs applied to - they applied to some of the schools but not all of them," Pees said. "It’s also noteworthy that in some instances, it appears that the students themselves didn’t pay the admission fee, it was their parents who did, which goes to the question of whether these students themselves have suffered a concrete and particularized injury."

Pees said those facts will play a role in whether the students suing are victorious or not, but the big question will boil down to if there are actually any injury suffered by these students - that is, if they were ever in the running for acceptance in the first place. 

"The big question is whether these particular students would have gotten into these universities but for the alleged wrongdoings. It’s noteworthy, at least in my view, that none of them seemed to be alleging that they were placed on the wait list for any of these universities that they are suing, which may be a determining if there is an injury," Pees said. 

Pees believes that universities will be subject to a number of changes after the uncovering of the bribery scandal, including increased scrutiny of admission practices, protocols and procedures.

"They need to brace themselves for potential congressional investigations. They need to brace themselves for potential legislation at the state level and above all they need to be proactive and get ahead of this and start developing best practices so that they are not among those universities and colleges that are targeted years from now because of deficient practices. This is a wake-up call, in a sense," Pees said.

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Akin Gump Strauss U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California San Francisco Division

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