By Katherine Lam, Elizabeth Zwirz
Published March 14, 2019
The University of Southern California, Yale and several other elite colleges are being sued by multiple college students who claim they were denied a fair opportunity for admission and have had their degrees devalued due to a college cheating scheme detailed by federal officials Tuesday.
The initial plaintiffs, Standford University students Erica Olson and Kalea Woods, filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday, a day after federal authorities said they've uncovered one of the largest college admissions scams ever seen in the U.S. The lawsuit seeks $5 million on behalf of what the lawyers estimate will be thousands of plaintiffs who fit the criteria to seek class status.
As of Thursday afternoon, Olsen was no longer involved in the lawsuit and a revised version of the complaint had removed her name. Woods remained in the suit, however, along with three new plaintiffs. The new students hailed from Rutgers, Tulane and an unnamed community college.
The University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Stanford, Yale and USC -- along with William “Rick” Singer, who was called the ringleader of the admissions scheme -- were also named as defendants.
The students claim they weren’t given a fair opportunity to be accepted into the elite colleges where they'd applied because some people were allegedly admitted based on fake athletic profiles and distorted SAT and ACT scores obtained through bribes.
"The students who filed the complaint didn’t receive what they paid for — to participate in an application process free of fraud," a statement from Zimmerman Reed LLP said. "According to the complaint, these schools represented that their admission process would be based on the applicants’ merits, considering their character and performance. Instead, the students allege that what they got was a process tainted by bribes and school officials who failed to assure an honest application process."
"It’s a straightforward claim and a simple remedy. The students want their money back," the statement continued. "They request that anyone who paid an application fee to any of the eight named universities but was denied admission gets their application fee returned."
Singer would obtain college acceptance letters for his clients' children by either helping them cheat on entrance exams or pretend they were being recruited as an athlete in a school sport, authorities said. The 58-year-old, who ran the for-profit college prep business Edge College & Career Network (also known as "The Key") and the charity Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), allegedly pitched it to parents as the "side door" method to getting into colleges.
“Each of the universities 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,” the complaint stated.
The suit added, "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."
A former California teacher filed a $500 billion civil lawsuit Wednesday against 45 defendants involved in the college admissions scandal, Reuters reported. Jennifer Kay Toy said wealthy parents who believed it was "OK to lie, cheat, steal and bribe their children's way into a good college" robbed her son, Joshua, of the chance to be admitted to colleges despite his 4.2 GPA.
She didn’t specify which colleges her son had sought to attend, nor did it specify his ultimate selection, but said those involved in the bribery scheme took away people’s “rights to a fair chance at entrance to college,” Reuters reported.
Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and money laundering on Tuesday. A total of 50 people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged over alleged involvement in the scheme.
Fox News' Bill Mears and Jennifer Girdon contributed to this report.