Two Stanford University students have filed a class-action lawsuit against Georgetown University and the other universities listed as destinations for students in the nationwide college admissions bribery and fraud scheme unveiled Tuesday.
The lawsuit alleges that the universities named as defendants “were negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in place to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process.”
It seeks more than $5 million in damages for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are named as qualified students who applied to and were rejected by the defendants as well as paid application fees to the defendants “without any understanding or warning that unqualified students were slipping in through the back door of the admissions process by committing fraud, bribery, cheating, and dishonesty.”
Georgetown currently charges a $75 application fee, which may be waived due to financial need.
William Singer, the admissions coach accused of falsifying test scores and bribing college athletics coaches to fraudulently designate students as athletic recruits is also named as a defendant. Besides Georgetown, Yale University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas, Wake Forest University are also defendants.
In addition to the application fees and rejection by these schools, the plaintiffs allege a reduction in value in the degrees received by the plaintiffs should be included as damages, as prospective employers may question whether that degree was earned on merit.
Georgetown University declined to comment on the lawsuit in an email to the Voice. However, a university spokesperson wrote that “Georgetown University takes the integrity of our admissions process seriously and is committed to a fair, holistic process whereby each application is carefully reviewed. We review all applicants without consideration of a family’s financial consideration or ability to pay.”
Both named plaintiffs, Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, claim to have “athletic talent” and “stellar standardized test scores.” In addition to Stanford—which both attend—Olsen applied to Yale, and Woods applied to University of Southern California. The lawsuit does not state whether those applications were accepted, or whether either applied to Georgetown. It also does not define minimum academic qualifications necessary to join the plaintiff class.
They allege that the universities listed as “victims” in the Department of Justice indictments should have been aware of fraudulent admissions procedures at their institutions.
“The University Defendants knew or should have known of these corrupt practices because the funds were often going into University accounts, and to prominent University figures such as coaches and directors in charge of University accounts,” the suit reads.
The indictments unsealed on Tuesday revealed that Gordon Ernst, Georgetown’s tennis coach from 2006 to 2017, had taken multiple bribes to label students as top tennis recruits and secure their entrance to the university, even though they were not qualified athletes. After the students matriculated, none played on the tennis team. From 2012 to 2018, Ernst accepted more than $2.7 million in bribes and has been charged with racketeering conspiracy. Five parents of former and current Georgetown students were also indicted.
Georgetown internally investigated Ernst at the end of 2017 around students he referred to the university but never played on his tennis team. This investigation lead the university to place him on leave in December 2017, then to his resignation on June 20, 2018. He began coaching at the University of Rhode Island in August 2018.
When asked by the Voice whether the university communicated the results of its internal investigation to the University of Rhode Island, a university spokesperson said, “Georgetown was unaware of any criminal activity by Gordon Ernst that would have warranted notifying the Justice Department or other employers.”
The university said in a statement to the Voice that it had fully cooperated with the FBI’s investigation.
This article will be updated with more information. Margaret Gach contributed reporting.
Image Credits: Delaney Corcoran