Former student Brianna Arredondo, who was enrolled at the University of La Verne during the 2019-2020 year, has filed a class action lawsuit against the University calling for a partial refund of tuition and fees for the spring 2020 semester. Arrendondo earned her bachelor of science in business administration in 2021.
Students affected by the class action suit were notified in a March 14 email that they were part of the suit filed on behalf all traditional undergraduate students, or TUGs, enrolled at the University in spring 2020 unless they chose to opt out.
During the spring 2020 semester, the University moved all classes online with little notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state stay-at-home orders. The suit alleges that the switch to online classes led students to not receive all the services that were supposed to be included in the tuition they paid for that semester.
“The University Of La Verne responded to the pandemic properly,” Doajo Hicks, general counsel for the University, said in an emailed interview this week about the pending lawsuit. “The University appropriately charged students for expenses it incurred to operate and provide the online learning environment that was required during the spring 2020 semester and beyond.”
But Michael A. Tompkins, senior associate at Leeds Brown Law, an attorney representing the class, said the lawsuit was filed because students paid for services that were not provided to them.
“ULV did not provide students with campus-based educational services,” Tompkins said. “COVID might have prevented ULV from keeping all of its services open during the entire semester, but COVID did not prevent ULV from giving some of the money back to its students when students didn’t get what they signed up for,” Tompkins added.
According to the lawsuit there was a breach of contract between students and the University of La Verne.
“The contract was that students paid tuition and fees to receive access to campus, in-person teaching, interactions with other members of the community, and access to labs, study rooms, libraries, technologies, and all the other services and facilities associated with campus,” Tompkins said. “That’s not what ULV provided. Then ULV unilaterally decided to keep the students’ money without providing them services.”
Tompkins added that the student government, the Associated Students of ULV, offered a refund for the student activity fees, but the University administration did not consider the students’ concerns regarding tuition refunds and other fees, such as lab fees.
Litzy Silva, senior criminology major, said she had to pay lab fees for a biology class she took during the 2020 spring semester. She agrees that such fees were not justified because she did not have access to the lab during the time when all classes were remote.
“COVID was not the University’s fault, but it was also not the students’ fault,” Tomkins said. “La Verne is treating the students like it was their fault, and that students should have to pay full campus price regardless of what ULV actually provided. That just doesn’t match what the law says,” Tompkins said.
Hicks said, however, that under the circumstances of the pandemic, the University provided the necessary resources and support to students during the spring 2020 semester, and some money was in fact returned to students.
“It is important to remember that we were dealing with an unprecedented public health situation and a rapidly evolving environment during spring 2020,” Hicks said. “Los Angeles County had among the highest COVID-19 rates in the nation. During this time, the University Of La Verne provided additional scholarships, aid through the Student Emergency Fund and distributed federal funding to ensure that our students were able to deal with the additional expenses and problems that they encountered from the pandemic.”
The lawyer representing the class, however, said he took the case because the students needed someone to stand up for them.
“A class action, like this type of case, gives the students a chance to fight for and protect their rights,” Tompkins said. “It helps level the economic imbalance between the school and its students.”
The trial for this case is scheduled to take place in August.
The University of La Verne is not alone in facing such a lawsuit. According to Inside Higher Ed, more than 300 cases have been filed against colleges and universities by students and parents demanding tuition refunds or partial refunds for educations they consider to be inferior or inconsistent with what they signed on for. While most of these cases are considered by legal experts to be hard for plaintiffs to win, at least two colleges have paid out millions of dollars to settle the suits.
Samira Felix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.