By Julia Ingram
Litigation on the lawsuit filed against Stanford, alleging that Stanford’s leave of absence policies discriminate against those with mental health disabilities, has been paused as the University remains in active settlement discussions with Disability Rights Activists (DRA), the nonprofit who filed the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, similar criticisms are being made of the Ivy League. On Dec. 9, 2018, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a Jewish organization that advocates for disability rights, published a report alleging discrimination in the involuntary leave of absence policies of all eight Ivy League universities. The Foundation assigned each university’s policies an individual grade, none receiving higher than a D+.
Both Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda and the DRA lawyer working on the case, Monica Porter, declined to elaborate on the details of the mediation. DRA has previously stated it does not seek monetary damages but rather a change in Stanford’s policies and practices.
The Ruderman Foundation assigned grades using a rubric that outlines the ideal leave of absence policy. The rubric was developed in consultation with RTI International director Jay Feldman and senior researcher Nitya Venkateswaren, as well as disability discrimination attorney Karen Bower, who was involved in the publication of a report by the Jed Foundation detailing the legal rights of students with regard to mental health.
Early last year, DRA launched a national investigation into the mental health policies of colleges and universities but chose to focus on Stanford in May after deeming the University’s policies “the most egregious.” The Ruderman Foundation’s report points to similarities between policies of Stanford and the Ivies.
Among the Ruderman Foundation’s chief qualms with the Ivies’ policies are that four of the universities’ policies do not mention “entitlement to reasonable accommodations” as a way of avoiding a leave altogether. Stanford’s Dean’s Leave of Absence policy similarly neglects to mention accommodations, and the DRA’s lawsuit also alleges that Stanford does not attempt to look for accommodations before placing a student on leave.
The Ruderman report also criticizes four Ivy League universities for taking “community disruption” as a basis for an involuntary leave, reasoning that discrimination on the basis of disability-caused behavior is illegal. Under Stanford’s leave of absence policies, a mandatory leave may be invoked when the student in question “significantly disrupts the educational or other activities of the University community.”
The other two of the Ruderman Foundation’s primary concerns are that four Ivies prohibit students from visiting campus while on leave — as does Stanford — and that five universities set out a minimum length of time for a leave of absence. Stanford’s policy states that a leave will last no less than one full quarter, “except in extraordinary circumstances.” The Dean of Students dictates the length of the leave of absence on a case-by-case basis, according to the policy.
In light of the Ruderman report, Porter wrote in an email to The Daily that DRA “is certainly pleased that this important issue has become a national conversation.”
Stanford and DRA will have a civil case management conference on Jan. 30, when they will meet with a judge to determine how to proceed with the case.
Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.