Graduate student files tuition lawsuit against the University of Washington Lawsuit

Ailina Cunningham, Staff Writer

The University of Washington campus hosts over 45,000 students. Photo retrieved from

Hagens Berman, a Seattle law firm, is making headlines because of their support of a graduate student who has opened a class-action lawsuit against the University of Washington, filed Sept. 16th. According to a KOMO News article the lawsuit is based on “breach of contract and unjust enrichment and alleges that despite closing all University of Washington campuses and transitioning to online learning, the university is still “continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students.” This would be a problem since, due to COVID-19, many colleges were refunding students’ tuition when online-based learning had to be transitioned to for the sake of students’ safety.

The graduate student in question claims in the lawsuit that by paying tuition as normal without getting compensation or a refund, he was “paying for goods and services he did not receive such as on-campus education, facilities, service, and activities.” These services had to be stopped due to concerns over COVID-19 and the spread of the virus due to close contact with other students. Requirements such as social distancing and transition to online classes have been adapted by most colleges including Saint Martin’s University. The graduate student alleged that by continuing to pay the same amount of tuition while receiving an education that is dramatically different from the education that was anticipated, it is a financial breach of contract.

The school did make a response to the lawsuit publicly, stating: “We understand and share the frustration and disappointment that students and their families are experiencing as we navigate the unprecedented limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic required an immediate shift to online instruction for the final two weeks of the winter quarter. The move to largely remote operations was consistent with orders from the Governor restricting the types of activities that were allowable at institutions of higher education and elsewhere, in the interest of public health and safety. The University was clear in its communications with students and their families that the entire spring quarter, summer sessions – and the coming fall quarter – would continue to require that the vast majority of classes and experiences would be remote, providing students time to reconsider their enrollment without penalty. The University will not provide any comment on pending litigation. The move to online instruction has increased our investment in instructional costs. We continue to pay faculty and staff for their work, and at the same time are making existing and new services available online and investing in new technological capabilities as we serve students remotely and support the UW community in these extraordinary times.”

Hagens Berman has also represented students in financial compensation cases for several other colleges including: Harvard, Pepperdine, University of Southern California, and Boston University. The crux of this issue is based on refunding the students that were unfortunately unable to complete the type of schooling but they were still going to have for the duration of that school period. 

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