Yale University sued for alleged 'systemic discrimination' toward students suffering from mental health issues

The lawsuit alleges that Yale University pressured students to withdraw while they deal with mental health issues

Students at Yale University are suing the institution over what they allege was "systemic discrimination" against students with mental health issues and claim they were pressured to withdraw due to their struggles.

Multiple students, along with the advocacy group Elis for Rachael, filed a federal lawsuit against Yale University in Connecticut on Wednesday claiming that the school did not treat students with mental health issues fairly or properly accommodate their requests to modify policies, NBC News reported.

One of the students, Alicia Abramson, said in the class action lawsuit that she had no choice but to withdraw during her sophomore year because the school would not change its policy to allow her to attend school part-time as she struggled with depression.

Another student, Hannah Neves, is alleging she was "encouraged" by school officials to withdraw during her junior year in 2019, when she was suffering from depression and hospitalized after an aspirin overdose. Neves claims that officials, including Yale psychiatrist Heather Paxton and Neves’s residential college’s dean Surjit K. Chandhoke, visited her in the hospital and told her it would "look bad" if she was withdrawn involuntarily.  

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A tour group makes a stop at the Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut

A tour group makes a stop at the Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut (Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Neves says that alternative accommodations that would have allowed her to continue at Yale while she sought treatment for her mental health were not discussed.

Neves added in the lawsuit that she asked if she could return to school in the fall of 2020 and was told she could not due to school policy. According to the lawsuit, Neves was involuntarily withdrawn while she was in the hospital and told she could only empty out her dorm with a police escort

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Harkness Tower stands on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut

Harkness Tower stands on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut (Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The lawsuit alleges that Yale University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act while placing "unreasonable burdens on students who withdraw for disability-related reasons and discourage students from withdrawing from Yale due to a disability when that is appropriate."

A third student, Nicolette Mantica, says she was informed she would be withdrawn from Yale while she was hospitalized in 2017 after engaging in "non-suicidal self-harm" and claimed an official told her that "if anything were to happen" to her, she would "be a liability to the university."

"Yale's faculty, staff, and leaders care deeply about our students," Yale University spokesperson Karen Peart told Fox News Digital in a statement. "We recognize how distressing and difficult it is for the student and their loved ones when a student is facing mental health challenges. When we make decisions and set policies, our primary focus is on students' safety and health, especially when they are most vulnerable."

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Yale School of Medicine, across the road from Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut. 

Yale School of Medicine, across the road from Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut.  (Getty Images)

Peart added that the school believes in fostering "strong and sensible support structures" for students that in many cases includes the student's parents and family.

"We have taken steps in recent years to simplify the return to Yale for students on medical withdrawals and to provide additional support for students. We are also working to increase resources to help students," Peart said. "The university is confident that our policies comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Nonetheless, we have been working on policy changes that are responsive to students' emotional and financial wellbeing."

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Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis and Director of Yale Mental Health and Counseling Dr. Paul Hoffman, who is also named in the lawsuit, pushed back against a Washington Post report last month alleging Yale improperly handled student mental health issues.

Hoffman said the report ignored the school’s "complex and nuanced endeavor" to deal with students' mental health, warning the article "could put more students at risk" by making them believe they should stay in school regardless of their mental health condition.

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Yale President Peter Salovey also responded to the report and critics questioning Yale’s actions in light of the Ivy League institution’s $41.4 billion endowment.

"To be clear, the health and well-being of Yale students are primary university priorities," Salovey wrote. "The Washington Post article does not reflect Yale’s efforts to foster student wellness. The article fails to acknowledge the support, processes, and policies in place or the positive outcomes associated with our work."

Fox News’ Jon Brown contributed to this report.