Student files class-action lawsuit against Liberty University over coronavirus response
A student has filed a class-action lawsuit against Liberty University over the school’s response to the coronavirus crisis, seeking refunds of thousands of dollars of tuition paid for the spring semester.
A plaintiff identified only as “Student A,” citing a fear of retaliation and harassment, accuses the school and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., of downplaying the crisis and refusing to refund fees for services that are no longer available.
“Liberty University is, in a very real sense, profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic—keeping its campus and campus services ‘open’ as a pretext to retain Plaintiff’s and the other Class members’ room, board and campus fees, despite no longer having to incur the full cost of providing those services, all the while putting students’ finances and health at risk,” the student’s lawsuit reads.
Like many schools across the country, the Lynchburg, Va., university has moved all its classes online and shuttered much of its campus. But the lawsuit accused the school of a “glacially slow” response to the pandemic that put its students at risk.
After weeks of downplaying the crisis and defying public health warnings, Liberty University finally moved its courses online March 23, 11 days after the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency.
But the school told students that it would keep the campus open to allow school housing residents to remain and use dining and other facilities.
“Liberty’s decision to tell its students that they could remain on campus to continue to use their housing, meal plans, parking, and the benefits of the services and activities for which their fees paid, was not only illusory and empty—because there were no more on-campus classes—but it was also extremely dangerous and irresponsible,” Student A said in the lawsuit.
Falwell has defended the decision, saying it’s intended to help students who have nowhere else to go.
Falwell, an outspoken supporter of President Trump, has been combative amid the global crisis. He has accused the media of stoking fears about the pandemic and last week the school obtained criminal arrest warrants for two journalists who had visited the campus to document its response.
The university said Tuesday that the lawsuit has no merit, and noted that it was offering $1,000 in credit to students who have decided to move out of campus housing.
“Liberty University has tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19,” the school said in a statement. “We have also taken into account the economic impact and legal rights of all the parties involved. While it’s not surprising that plaintiff class action attorneys would seek to profit from a public health crisis, we don’t believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students.”
Updated at 2:17 p.m.