A Yale College alumna is suing Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital for placing her on mandatory medical leave after she sought counseling for depression in November 2016 — the same month two other undergraduates committed suicide.
In the lawsuit filed on Nov. 5 this year, the student — referred to as Z.P. in court documents — alleges that Yale-New Haven Hospital staff unlawfully held her for involuntary treatment and disclosed confidential medical information to Yale administrators without her consent. The student also alleges that Yale violated her constitutional and statutory rights by removing her from campus. The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, names Yale University, Yale-New Haven Hospital, University President Peter Salovey, former Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin, director of Yale Mental Health & Counseling Lorraine Siggins and six unnamed University and hospital employees as defendants.
The plaintiff was placed on medical withdrawal as a senior in the fall of 2016. She was reinstated in the fall of 2017 and graduated with the class of 2018.
“Please let me continue to learn how not to be afraid, continue to grow and become an adult who is strong enough to make a better life for herself,” the student wrote in a letter appealing the University’s decision to place her on medical leave on Nov. 11, 2017. “Please let me return to Yale and continue to help myself.”
Yale Director of External Communications Karen Peart said that the University does not comment on pending litigations. Salovey, Holloway, Genecin and Siggins did not respond to requests for comment. Yale-New Haven Hospital’s marketing and communications department also did not respond to requests for comment.
Robert De Groot, the attorney representing the Yale alumna, told the News that he will formally serve the University next week. The plaintiff is seeking damages for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Yale did nothing to “assist or accommodate” the plaintiff for her clinical depression and denied her due process by forcibly removing her from campus, De Groot said.
According to the University’s website, Yale College may require a student to withdraw for medical reasons when an administrator — the Yale College dean, the director of Yale Health or the chief of Mental Health & Counseling — determines that the student is a “danger to self or others because of a serious medical problem.” A student can also be required to withdraw if they refuse to cooperate with efforts deemed necessary by Yale Health to determine if the student is a danger to themselves or others, according to the University website.
In an interview with the News, De Groot claimed that Yale’s decision to place Z.P. on leave was influenced by other student suicides that had occurred that year. Earlier that month, two Yale undergraduates committed suicide. De Groot alleged that Yale forced the plaintiff to withdraw because the University did not want another suicide to occur and create further negative press for Yale.
“This was not done to assist this young woman,” De Groot told the News. “This was done to protect [Yale’s] own image from being tarnished.”
According to court documents, the plaintiff has a history of clinical depression. The plaintiff was “disenchanted” that the campus returned to its “business as usual” atmosphere after the two suicides in November 2016, according to court documents. She discussed these emotions with her religious advisor, who recommended she visit Mental Health & Counseling with her concerns. Once there, she was advised to seek admission to the hospital for treatment, according to documents.
At Yale-New Haven Hospital, the plaintiff was reportedly told that if she admitted herself into the hospital, she would be able to meet with a treatment team the next business day. But hospital staff did not inform her that she could be held involuntarily after admission, according to the court filing. Even after the student’s parents arrived at the hospital and requested access to the physician’s emergency certificate — a document that served as the Hospital’s basis for her involuntary admission — as well as information about the student’s rights to challenge her admission, Yale Health did not provide the documents.
“We’ve [recently] tried to get the records from Yale, from Yale[-New Haven] Hospital, they have done everything they can to obstruct,” De Groot told the News.
While the student was held at the hospital, Yale Health and the University decided that the plaintiff should take a medical leave “due to her health and the recent suicides of two students,” according to court documents. They made the decision despite the student’s “improved mood and coping skills.”
On Nov. 11, 2016, the student appealed the University’s decision to place her on medical leave. Four days later — despite the student asserting in her appeal that she would never hurt herself — Holloway denied the appeal. She was not allowed to complete her fall 2016 semester or return in the following spring semester. After returning to campus a year later, the court documents said that the University forcing Z.P. to leave campus had the “effect of ostracizing the Plaintiff from her peer group.”
“The Plaintiff noted that Yale was a refuge from her stressful home environment and that her environment away from Yale would be less conducive to her recovery,” the court document reads.
This is not the first time a student has found issue with Yale’s mental health protocol. Yale’s leave of absence and reinstatement policies came under scrutiny in January 2015 when Luchang Wang ’17 committed suicide after she posted a note on Facebook in which she discussed her fears regarding being forced to withdraw from Yale and not being allowed to return afterwards.
Amid student concerns about the rigidity of withdrawal and reinstatement policies for mental health reasons, the University altered its procedures in April 2015. These reforms included an extended timeline for leaves of absence — which now allows students to take a break from Yale later than 10 days into the semester without having to formally withdraw — as well as policies to alleviate financial burdens on withdrawn students.
But the changes did not address one of the primary reasons why Wang was unwilling to use Yale’s mental health resources — the policy that allowed the Mental Health & Counseling director to withdraw students without their consent.
According to Stetson University College of Law professor and expert on higher education law Peter Lake, in recent years, many universities have faced similar court challenges for their use of withdrawal and reinstatement policies. For example, in May, a group of Stanford students filed a class action lawsuit accusing the university of coercing students with mental health issues into taking leaves of absence, rather than responding to their needs on campus.
Lake emphasized that universities must judge each student’s case on an individual basis. He noted that schools with “consistently applied” policies for medical withdrawal, as well as clear protocols for students to voluntarily withdraw and easily re-enroll, are more likely to be found in compliance with legal codes.
In a 2016 report, the American Psychiatric Association recommended that universities design policies that do not discourage students from seeking treatment. The report states that mandated withdrawals or leaves of absence can be appropriate only when the student poses a threat to others on campus or are in “dangerous situations where the safety of the student cannot be managed in the school environment.” However, the APA advised that students should not be forcibly removed solely on the basis of seeking treatment for suicidal thoughts.
Students can contact the Mental Health & Counseling department for acute care at 203-432-0123.
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