Support independent, student-run journalism.

Your support helps give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to conduct meaningful reporting on important issues at Stanford. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Mental health discrimination lawsuit files amended complaint, class certification motion

Hannah Ronca/The Stanford Daily

Three more individuals have joined the class-action lawsuit against Stanford — originally filed in May — which claims that the University, in placing students on leaves of absences in the face of severe mental health challenges without seeking sufficient accommodations, has discriminated against students with mental health disabilities.

Along with an amended complaint incorporating these students’ cases, the Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) on Monday filed a motion to certify “all Stanford students who have a mental health disability” as a class, the plaintiffs as class representatives and the DRA as a class council.  

The amended complaint has been revised to include allegations from Harrison Fowler ’22 and two other students, named by the pseudonyms Rose A. and Sofia B. It alleges that Stanford “maintains antiquated policies, practices, and procedures related to mental health that violate anti-discrimination laws.”

The Class Certification Motion more closely critiques and seeks to modify the Dean’s leave of absence policy as well as the housing hold policy. As of now, the DRA is working with Stanford to set a “mutually-agreeable schedule for settlement and a continuance of [the] hearing” with a neutral mediator, according to Monica Porter, the DRA attorney working on the case. Porter, her legal team and her clients do not seek monetary damages, but rather a court order mandating better accommodations students with mental health disabilities.

“We remain very willing to work with Stanford and their counsel to address these policies and ensure that students with mental health disabilities can be accommodated,” Porter wrote in an email to The Daily.

Elaine Ray, Student Affairs communications director, said that the Stanford has received the amended complaint and is currently reviewing it, but that University officials believe Stanford has complied with the law.

“Stanford University cares deeply about the health and well-being of all of our students and works to ensure they have full and equal access to the benefits of Stanford’s programs, facilities, and services,” Ray wrote in a statement to The Daily.

In a May 24 “Notes from the Quad” post, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole wrote that University officials had been in touch with DRA attorneys for more than two months before the first iteration of the lawsuit was filed. In the course of hearing concerns raised by DRA representatives, Stanford crafted a new policy on housing holds.

“We appreciate that these students have raised their concerns, and we will always engage with students who feel that we need to improve our policies and processes,” Brubaker-Cole wrote in the post. “We wish to reinforce our heartfelt concern for student mental health and our drive to continually improve the ways we support students individually across all aspects of their experience.”

Fowler

Fowler entered Stanford in September 2017, but is currently on a mandatory leave of absence after having suicidal thoughts during his freshman fall. Because of his leave, he will return to Stanford in the fall as a member of the Class of 2022.

Fowler voluntarily admitted himself to Stanford Hospital in October 2017 at the recommendation of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) after experiencing suicidal ideation. He was hospitalized for three days until he was discharged to continue outpatient treatment at La Selva, a mental health treatment facility, where he was prescribed an antidepressant.

However, the antidepressant prompted Fowler to have more suicidal thoughts, and on Nov. 6, Fowler spoke to a resident assistant (RA), who called CAPS on his behalf. According to the lawsuit, after Fowler spoke to a CAPS professional, they called the police, who came to his dorm, handcuffed him and took him to Stanford Hospital for a second time.  

While in the hospital, Residence Dean (RD) Carolus Brown visited Fowler to inform him “he was most likely going to have to take a year off,” the amended complaint states.

“I was trying to explain to [Brown], no that’s not what I want to do,” Fowler told The Daily. “I felt as if it was mostly [La Selva’s] fault for putting me on the wrong medications and not following up with proper treatment … I remember being firmly opposed to a leave of absence.”

However, according to the amended complaint, Brown told Fowler that the decision was neither his nor Fowler’s to make. The complaint continues that on Nov. 11 or 12, Brown and CAPS Clinical Care Manager Tanisha Clarke revisited the hospital and informed Fowler’s doctors, in front of him, that Fowler was going to have to take a yearlong leave of absence.

“Brown and Clarke’s discussion of the leave of absence in Harrison’s discharge meeting made it seem to Harrison that his entire discharge plan was contingent on him taking a leave of absence and that he would not be discharged without it,” the document states.

The Daily is awaiting comment from Brown and Clarke on this matter.

The document and Fowler also said that Stanford staff did not discuss any other options that might have allowed him to remain a student or remain in his housing. However, Fowler did not appear to seek out other options.

“I took that bait just so I could get out as soon as possible,” he said.

Fowler was discharged on Nov. 13 and returned to Texas with his parents.

In order to return from his current leave of absence and to residential housing on campus next fall, Dean of Students Chris Griffith has informed Fowler that he must provide documentation of his engagement in professional treatment and allow CAPS to speak directly with his healthcare providers. He must also meet periodically with an RD.

At press time, Griffith had not yet responded to a request for comment from The Daily.

According to the complaint, Fowler was also told that he must submit a personal statement discussing “[his] understanding of why [his] behaviors are of concern,” as well as what led to his suicidal ideation and what changes he will make.

As of now, Fowler has no plans to engage with on-campus mental health resources upon his return to Stanford. He’ll look off campus instead, the suit states.

“I don’t think there’s any way I would report to Stanford about any suicidal ideations I had, because I can’t really risk just, the emotional effect it would have on me,” Fowler told The Daily.

Rose A.

According to the amended complaint, plaintiff Rose A. was forced to take a leave of absence following her hospitalization after she experienced thoughts of suicide and engaged in non-suicidal self harm.

Rose agreed to go to Stanford Hospital on Oct. 20, 2017, after opening up to an RA about her suicidal ideation, but was relocated to San Jose Behavioral Health the following day, where she was notified by Brown that she would have to take a year-long leave of absence. Brown also informed her that she would have to improve her behavior and that she had disrupted the atmosphere of her dorm, according to the document.

Prior to this, Rose had attempted to secure mental health treatment through CAPS, but she was directed on Oct. 10 to seek out off-campus providers. Rose secured a CAPS appointment for Oct. 24 but was already in the hospital by then.

According to the document, the plaintiff was not given the opportunity to explain this to Brown or to discuss any accommodations or conditions that would allow her to remain a student. The plaintiff was then informed she was not allowed to return to campus and instead remained at the hospital until Oct. 31, when her parents arrived in the area to arrange new housing accommodations.

The plaintiff was also, according to the document, accused of distressing other students. Griffith wrote in an email that Rose had been “increasingly dependent” on other students to manage her mental health and unwilling to seek help from mental health providers.

While on leave, Rose completed coursework at a university in Melbourne, Australia. She also completed three and a half hours of Dialectical Behavior Therapy per week, as prescribed to her by a treatment provider.

Griffith and Clarke informed the plaintiff that her return to Stanford was contingent upon her granting the University permission to speak directly with her private treatment providers, to provide documentation of ongoing treatment and participate in meetings with Stanford administrators and an RD. Like Fowler, she was also told she would have to provide a personal statement that describes “[her] understanding of why [her] behaviors are of concern” and “the ways in which [Rose has] been addressing the issues that prompted her referral [to a leave of absence],” according to the complaint.

To lift her housing hold, the plaintiff was informed she would have to write a separate statement in which she “share[s] more about the impact [she] had on the community” and how “[her] ability to care for [her]self was somewhat limited,” and answer 12 follow-up questions.

Brown modified the requests the day after the filing of the initial lawsuit on May 18, and instead asked the plaintiff to respond to the question, “What does success look like upon your return to the campus community?” to lift her housing hold.

On May 26, Griffith emailed Rose to inform her her personal statement to Griffith would suffice for both the leave of absence and housing hold, and she would not need to submit a statement to Brown.

The plaintiff’s psychiatrist and therapist have written letters to Stanford supporting her readmission, and recommended against her use of on-campus mental health resources.

Sofia B.

Plaintiff Sofia B. was infomed she would have to take a leave of absence after experienced an anxiety attack and voluntarily admitted herself to Stanford Hospital on Dec. 6, 2015.

Griffith told the plaintiff that she “had placed too much stress on staff and been disruptive to other students,” the document states. The plaintiff told Griffith that she has an abusive family, and that going home would be detrimental to her mental health.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff was not presented with any options other than a leave of absence.

The plaintiff remained in the hospital until Dec. 9. She was charged a $350 “Late Termination of Occupancy” fee following her discharge, the complaint states.

During Winter 2016, the plaintiff lived with her parents, who refused to speak to her, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff returned to campus in Spring 2016. Griffith informed her by phone that her return was contingent upon demonstration of her engagement in mental health treatment, and a personal statement “accepting blame and apologizing,” the complaint says.

Since the plaintiff’s hospitalization and leave began during finals week Fall Quarter 2015, she was required to take incompletes on all her classes, and take the exams a year later.

In addition to Fowler, Rose A. and Sofia B., the amended complaint includes supporting testimony from three students — referred to by the pseudonyms Erica C., Alex D. and Grace E. The amended complaint asserts that each of these three students, all of whom have struggled with mental illness, “faces the ongoing possibility of being harmed in the future by Stanford’s discriminatory leave policies.”

According to the complaint, each of these students said that they no longer use on-campus mental health resources. They believe that in seeking help through CAPS, students run the risk of facing an involuntary leave of absence.

“Alex feels like CAPS is not a resource to help her as a student because it maintains policies that appear to function as a pipeline to help Stanford remove students with mental health disabilities from campus,” the complaint reads.

The Daily has reached out to University officials regarding this update.

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters.
Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.