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Student sues Lafayette College for breach of contract during COVID-19 shutdowns

Similar COVID-related class-action lawsuits against colleges and universities remain in litigation, some were dismissed, others settled

A former Lafayette College student is suing the school for a breach of contract due to the loss of in-person learning during the COVID-19 shutdowns in the spring of 2020.

Julia Jin-Wolfson, a student at the private Pennsylvania institution at the time, said she paid full tuition for the on-campus experience at Lafayette.

However, she and other students were sent home in March 2020 after the outbreak of COVID-19 and did not return for the remainder of the spring semester, according to her legal complaint, filed Oct. 17.

As a result, she was “forced to take her classes remotely, refrain from visiting campus, and prevented from utilizing various on-campus services for which she paid,” the lawsuit states.

In many cases, these classes were pre-recorded lectures or virtual Zoom meetings that deprived students of “hands-on, experiential, and collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique,” for which they pre-paid, Jin-Wolfson states in the case.

Students also lost access to facilities, services, dining, and housing, the lawsuit states.

“By not giving prorated refunds for tuition or fees charged for on-campus education and services not provided, Lafayette breached its contracts with students or was otherwise unjustly enriched,” according to the lawsuit.

Jin-Wolfson is seeking “damages and restitution resulting from Lafayette’s retention” of her tuition and fees. In 2020, tuition was $27,256 plus a $240 activity and technology fee, the suit states.

Lafayette College’s media and communications team told The Fix that they cannot comment on pending litigation.

The Fix also contacted the legal counsel for Jin-Wolfson via email, but they did not respond.

Jin-Wolfson’s case is not the only one of its kind. Similar COVID-related class-action lawsuits against the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University settled earlier this year for $4.5 million and $6.6 million, respectively.

In April, CU Boulder settled a class action lawsuit with students who alleged they were deprived of the education they paid for during the lockdown, agreeing to pay $5 million.

In October, Cornell University also agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the Ivy League university failed to adequately reimburse students after it shifted to virtual learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several students at Rhode Island colleges and universities also filed a lawsuit seeking tuition refunds from Johnson & Wales University, the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, and Roger Williams University. However, in 2021, a federal district judge dismissed the suit.

“While some of the class-action suits against the colleges and universities are still in litigation, and still others dismissed, several major cases have been settled in recent weeks,” USA Today reported Aug. 23, noting, for example, that the University of Delaware agreed in June “to set up a $6.3 million fund to partially reimburse tuition and fees that the students paid for classes, housing and activities.”

As for Lafayette College, in 2021, it reported losing nearly $40 million in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns due to low enrollment and refunds for student housing from the spring 2020 semester.

The college gave students a 50 percent refund for room and board if they lived in college-owned housing and had to leave due to COVID-19 in early 2020, The Lafayette student newspaper reported.

MORE: Lawsuit: U. Delaware ‘unjustly enriched itself’ during COVID-19 pandemic

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About the Author
Rachel Culver -- The Master's University