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class-action lawsuit

Parent Sues Rutgers, Demanding Tuition Refund Due To Coronavirus

Online classes and Zoom sessions are not what the parents purchased when they paid their daughter’s spring 2020 tuition, the suit argues.

By Carly Baldwin, Patch Staff 
May 21, 2020 4:14 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2020 8:58 am ET
Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government through the CARES Act.
Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government through the CARES Act. (Shutterstock)

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — An anonymous parent of a Rutgers University student filed a class-action lawsuit against the school this week, seeking a partial tuition refund in light of the school’s campus closure due to COVID-19.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in superior court in Middlesex County. This week, a student filed a similar lawsuit against Kean University, saying online classes were not what she paid for.

When the pandemic first began, Rutgers gave students pro-rated refunds for housing, dining and parking charges beginning on March 23 and lasting through May 16, said Rutgers spokeswoman Dory Devlin. (May 16 is the required move-out date at the university.)

However, what this parent is seeking is not a refund for campus meals and housing: They would like a tuition refund, arguing that — because all her classes were virtual instead of in-person — their daughter received a radically different learning experience than what they paid for.

“While plaintiff’s daughter could have obtained her degree online, their daughter specifically selected an in-person, in-class experience,” the lawsuit argues.

“The shift to online instruction affected the depth,” read the suit. “Often links sent by professors were not compatible with her computer and she missed opportunities to view videos and listen to audio lectures that were necessary for her learning. Instead, she was only able to review the bullet-point lecture slides and missed a lot of necessary information from the lectures.”

The suit was filed by law firm Hagens Berman, which has also brought similar lawsuits against Boston University, Brown, Duke, Emory, George Washington University, USC, Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis.

“What Rutgers is offering is not what students or parents paid for,” Berman said.

Specific course fees, where appropriate, were refunded on a course-by-course basis, said Rutgers spokeswoman Devlin.

But no university in America, including Rutgers, has given refunds based on the differences between in-class and online learning due to the coronavirus shutdown.

The plaintiff is listed as by John Doe. U.S. law allows civil suits to be filed anonymously or under a pseudonym in certain cases to “protect a person (in this case the Rutgers student) from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.”

The lawsuit is class-action, meaning that anyone can join the suit.

“We understand that universities have been put under unforeseen circumstances and had to act quickly in the face of the pandemic,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “But we also believe that is no excuse to ignore the rights of students paying for access to campus amenities, in-person education and all the other benefits commonly afforded to them in a typical semester.”

According to the lawsuit, Rutgers had a record-breaking fundraising year with more than 48,500 donors contributing $250.9 million. Recently, Rutgers received an estimated $54.16 million from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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