College admissions scandal: San Diego woman sues University of San Diego, other schools over alleged scam

Posted at 10:02 AM, Mar 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-14 21:22:35-04

(AP/KGTV) - Two college students filed a lawsuit against the University of San Diego, USC, Yale University and other colleges where prosecutors have accused rich and famous parents of paying bribes to ensure their children's admission.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco and alleges the students were denied a fair opportunity for admission.

Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods claimed they were denied a fair opportunity to apply to Yale and USC. The lawsuit they field also named the University of San Diego, University of California, Los Angeles, Wake Forest University, the University of Texas at Austin, Georgetown University and Stanford University.

Early Thursday afternoon, Bay Area TV station KGO reported that Olsen dropped out of the lawsuit. Olsen's attorney told KGO that the Stanford student is no longer pursuing legal action.

Woods, also a Stanford student, has not said if she will also drop out of the suit.

The lawsuit initially filed by Olsen and Woods alleged the scheme gave unqualified students admission to highly selective universities.

"Each of the universities took the students' admission application fees while failing to take adequate steps to ensure that their admissions process was fair and free of fraud, bribery, cheating and dishonesty," the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit.

Kalea Woods is still listed as a plaintiff in the case. The now Stanford University student paid an $85 fee to apply to USC in 2017. But after learning about the scandal, she claims she was not given a fair admissions consideration process. Now she is demanding that fee back, plus additional "damages." Woods claims her reputation and employability after college are also tarnished because Stanford is listed as one of the schools that reportedly took bribes. The lawsuit says:

"Her 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 rich parents who were willing to bribe school officials."

The class-action lawsuit says it is open to anyone who was rejected by the eight listed school within 2012 and 2018. But exactly how many people is that? In 2017 for example, Stanford had more than 38,000 applicants, and only accepted 2,200. That means more than 36,000 hopeful students were rejected, and therefore would be eligible to join the suit. That is a figure from only one year, from only one of the schools listed in the case.

10News spoke to personal injury attorney Evan Walker for legal insight. While returning the fees may be straightforward, Walker said quantifying other damages may be difficult.

"The plaintiffs are alleging the loss of reputation and loss of career opportunities, and so that needs to be quantified by an economist or another expert who is qualified to give that kind of testimony," Walker said. He also said that proving that a person was rejected from a university because of the scandal or because of under-qualifications will also be tricky.

"I think a serious concern here, monetary issue aside, is the reputation these higher institutions are going to have, and the people who have diplomas from the places. There may be some uncomfortable questions being asked," Walker said.


Charges were announced earlier this week against 50 people, including coaches and dozens of parents, in a scheme where prosecutors have said wealthy parents paid to rig standardized scores and bribed sports coaches to get their children into elite universities.
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among the parents charged in the alleged conspiracy.

Two San Diegans -- insurance company exec Toby MacFarlane and former KFMB owner Elisabeth Kimmel -- were taken into custody for their alleged involvement in the scheme.

Golfer Phil Mickelson tweeted Thursday a connection to the company of one of the accused, college prep coach Rick Singer.

The colleges named have cast themselves as victims of the scheme and have moved to distance themselves from the coaches accused of involvement.

In a statement responding to the story that has dominated headlines this week, USD officials said:

The University of San Diego has been cooperating with the United States Department of Justice’s investigation involving an alleged criminal conspiracy to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams and admission into colleges and universities. We have no reason to believe that any members of our admissions team, our administration or staff, or our current coaching staff were aware of or involved in the alleged wrongdoing. We believe the federal government agrees with this assessment.

The University of San Diego released a second statement Thursday about the lawsuit, saying it was conducting an investigation into the allegations and would take appropriate action as needed. The university's "commitment to ethical conduct and integrity in our admissions policies and processes is unwavering," officials said.

"We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university," USC officials said in a statement earlier this week.

Yale officials said earlier this week they were cooperating with the investigation.

"As the indictment makes clear, the Department of Justice believes that Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women's soccer coach," Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said.