Education Law

Suit claims Princeton violated rights of suicidal student by pressuring him to leave

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A pending lawsuit against Princeton University claims the school discriminated against a suicidal student by pressuring him to leave and exposing medical confidences.

The closely watched suit (PDF) raises “a sensitive issue shrouded in legal murkiness,” the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Most suits against schools involving suicides are wrongful death cases. Schools may fear liability for failing to gather information and to remove a suicidal student from campus. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog summarizes the story.

The suit, filed in late March by a student identified as “W.P.,” claims violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and other causes of action.

The suit says W.P., now a sophomore, “impulsively ingested” about 20 anti-depressant tablets and then walked to the school’s health center to get help. “Within three days, without a hearing, and while W.P. was still in a hospital, Princeton had barred him from his dorm room, banned him from attending classes, and prohibited him from setting foot on campus,” the suit says.

“At a meeting in which intimate details from his confidential medical records were raised and freely discussed by Princeton officials,” the suit says, “he was told that the ‘universal outcome’ in such situations was ‘voluntary’ withdrawal. If he did not ‘voluntarily’ withdraw he would be involuntarily withdrawn in approximately three weeks for failing to attend the classes from which he had been banned.”

A Princeton spokesperson declined to discuss the case with the Wall Street Journal, but said university officials spend hours working with students when there are issues related to well-being.

W.P. is back in class after complying with a list of requirements and reapplying for admission, the suit says. He record, however, “will always reflect an awkward, one-year gap which he will be forced to explain,” the suit says.

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