Stanford University Systematically Violates the Rights of Students with Mental Health Disabilities

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the archway at Stanford University's "oval"

by Matthias Book via Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Berkeley, CA (May 17, 2018)– Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, filed a class action lawsuit against Stanford University today for violating the rights of students with mental health disabilities.  Stanford routinely responds to student mental health crises by barring students from campus and evicting them from on-campus housing.  DRA is bringing this lawsuit in the Northern District of California on behalf of the Stanford Mental Health & Wellness Coalition and three Stanford students to end the university’s discriminatory policies and practices.

“Stanford’s leave of absence policies have a real impact on campus culture,” said a member of the Stanford Mental Health & Wellness Coalition, a student group.  “Students aren’t using campus mental health resources because they’re afraid of being punished if they reach out.”

This first of its kind lawsuit highlights that universities have legal responsibilities to students.  Students with mental health disabilities deserve the right to full use of their school’s resources, including reasonable accommodations.  “The law requires that exclusion be a last resort,” said Monica Porter, DRA Equal Justice Works Fellowship Attorney.

DRA hopes this case will set a precedent and lead to improved policies and practices across the country.  “Stanford is a particularly egregious example, but it is unfortunately not the only one we have heard about,” said Maia Goodell, DRA Senior Staff Attorney.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and related state laws protect against discrimination on the basis of mental health disabilities such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The lawsuit alleges that Stanford has a practice of treating students who experience mental health crises as liabilities: pressuring them into taking leaves of absence and requiring immediate withdrawal from all classes and housing, all without an individualized evaluation of reasonable accommodations.  Further perpetuating mental health stigma, Stanford requires students wishing to return to the University to write statements accepting blame and apologizing for the “disruption” they have caused the University community.

“In a mental health crisis, Stanford should be working with students and their doctors, not making students apologize for being ill,” said Ms. Porter.

Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but rather equal access to Stanford’s educational and housing programs and services.  Their ultimate goal is to change Stanford’s leave of absence and related policies and practices.

Read the complaint and find more information at www.dralegal.org.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center.  Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases.  In G.F. et al. v. Contra Costa County et al., DRA successfully ended the use of solitary confinement in Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall in an unprecedented victory for young people with mental health disabilities who were denied educational services and treated punitively.  Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically-improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing.  For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

Share Your Experience

If you have a mental health disability and have experienced discrimination at your college or university, visit www.dralegal.org/campusmentalhealth or contact us at campusmentalhealth@dralegal.org or (510) 665-8644.

Contacts

Monica Porter

Equal Justice Works Fellow, Sponsored by Ebb Point Foundation

(510) 665-8644

mporter@dralegal.org