(Reuters) – The U.S. college admissions scandal that erupted this week has spawned lawsuits accusing rich, well-connected parents and prestigious schools of conspiring to admit those parents’ children at the expense of the less affluent.
A person walks by the Trojan Shrine at University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Lawsuits began emerging on Wednesday, a day after federal prosecutors said a California company made about $25 million from parents seeking spots for their children in top schools including Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California and Yale University.
Fifty people, including 33 parents, have been criminally charged in the nation’s largest known college admissions scandal. The accused mastermind, William Singer, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.
In one civil lawsuit, Stanford students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods said they were denied a fair opportunity to win admission to Yale and USC because of alleged racketeering, and said their degrees from Stanford will be devalued.
Singer and eight schools, including Stanford, were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
Another lawsuit by Joshua Toy and his mother said he was denied college admission despite a 4.2 grade point average, and seeks $500 billion of damages from 45 defendants for defrauding and inflicting emotional distress on everyone whose “rights to a fair chance” to enter college was stolen.
The defendants in that case include Singer and accused parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, and TPG private equity partner William McGlashan Jr.
“These class-action cases are opportunistic creatures of lawyers trying to obtain a windfall,” Donald Heller, a lawyer for Singer, said in a phone interview.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Both lawsuits were filed in California. More lawsuits are likely.
Prosecutors said Singer used his Edge College & Career Network and an affiliated nonprofit to help prospective students cheat on college admission tests and bribe coaches to inflate their athletic credentials.
The Stanford case is notable because that school is among the country’s most prestigious and selective, admitting just 4.3 percent of its applicants last year.
But Olsen and Woods said their degrees are “now not worth as much” because prospective employers might question whether they were admitted on merit, or had parents whose bribes got them in.
A Stanford spokesman said the university is reviewing the lawsuit.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas