Elis for Rachael reaches settlement with University following mental health discrimination lawsuit
About nine months after filing a class-action lawsuit against the University regarding its leave of absence policies, the nonprofit has reached a settlement with Yale that cements recent policy changes and introduces new reforms long desired by mental health advocates.
Karen Lin, Senior Photographer
As many Yalies moved back to campus on Friday afternoon, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd sent an email to the Yale community about new mental health-related reforms to University policy, following a years-long legal battle between the University and mental health advocacy group Elis for Rachael.
Boyd’s message came just on the heels of an email from Elis for Rachael announcing a settlement in the class-action lawsuit that the nonprofit filed alongside two student plaintiffs in November 2022, alleging that the University discriminates against students with mental illnesses.
When the spring semester began in January, two months after the lawsuit was filed, the University announced its first change: the redefinition of leaves due to mental health struggles as “medical leave of absences” rather than medical withdrawals — a change in distinction that expanded support available to students. Medical leave of absence includes a simplified reinstatement process, accommodations for a reduced course load and financial support, along with healthcare coverage options through Yale.
If the judge assigned to the case approves the settlement terms, those changes — along with “significant new advances” — will be officially codified and thus legally enforceable in the settlement with the University, per the Friday email from Elis for Rachael.
“Today is a watershed moment for anyone with a mental health disability, and for the entire Yale community,” Rishi Mirchandani ’19, co-founder of Elis for Rachael, wrote in the nonprofit’s email announcement. “This historic settlement affirms that students with mental health needs truly belong.”
These changes, detailed in the settlement agreement, include a clarified reinstatement process with individualized lengths of absence, continued campus inclusion during time away, part-time study, access to Yale’s healthcare coverage and a scheduled system for tuition, room and board refunds.
Alicia Floyd ’05, co-founder of Elis for Rachael, told the News the part-time study option is a particularly consequential change for Yale, a school that has historically taken an “all or nothing” approach to university life and enrollment.
“I am pleased with today’s outcome,” Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis wrote in a statement to the News. “Students and alumni have shared constructive ideas with Yale administrators and clinicians, and my hope is that the changes that have emerged from these discussions will make it easier for students to ask for support, focus on their health and wellbeing, and take time off if they wish, knowing that they can resume their studies when they are ready.”
Lewis highlighted the expanded resources the University has worked to provide for students seeking support over the past few years. He added that he hopes students will continue to take advantage of those resources, as needed, throughout their time at Yale.
Boyd’s email referenced the “Time Away and Return” portion of the University’s academic regulations, which was updated in January. Paul Mange Johansen ’88, fellow Elis for Rachael co-founder, told the News he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the resource.
It remains unclear how the University will specifically approach implementing the policies outlined in the settlement. Floyd noted that the centralized information — which she called a “one-stop shop” — mirrors existing support systems at Duke University and Cornell University, and she and Johansen encouraged Yale to look at schools like those for inspiration on execution.
Elis for Rachael’s announcement of the changes noted that while this settlement might be an important step in the right direction, the organization plans to continue its fight for mental health advocacy and policy reform.
Additional action for which the group will lobby includes preferred provider organization insurance for enrolled students, housing security and medical privacy.
Elis for Rachael will hold a fundraising event at Center Church On The Green on Nov. 17.
Anika Arora Seth contributed reporting.