“Zoom U” Law Suits Multiply as Professor Predicted; Harvard Latest Victim; Class Actions Could Pressure Colleges To Risk Lives With Fall In-Person Openings
Zoom U" Law Suit Filed Against Harvard And Many Others
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 26, 2020) - Harvard is only the latest of more than two-dozen class-action "Zoom U" law suits filed against universities for shutting down prematurely this spring; a development Brietbart News attributes to the prediction of public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
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And Banzhaf is now predicting that preliminary rulings in any one or more of those suits could pressure schools to return to classroom teaching this fall, despite clearly foreseeable and largely unavoidable risks to students as well as faculty, based upon well-grounded fears of much larger law suits if they try to continue teaching on line as virtually all begin to do in late spring.
He notes that the class action law suit against Harvard for $5 million is based upon substituting on-line instruction for in-person teaching for a brief period of only a few weeks at the end of the spring term, whereas a school which provides only on-line instruction for the entire fall term would be targeted for a much larger amount.
Moreover, the defense that most of the class-action defendants are apparently offering - that they had no choice but to abandon classroom instruction because of the dangers suddenly and unexpectedly created by the coronavirus - would not work if similar law suits are filed over fall instruction since schools will by then have had many months to prepare, says Banzhaf.
Students Being Denied The College Experience
Students object not only to having to learn on line - what is sometime derogatorily referred to going Zoom U - but, more importantly, to being denied the entire "college experience" they want; an experience which also includes living with peers in dormitories or fraternities/sororities, attending athletic and other campus events, joining clubs, and engaging in many social activities including parties, says Banzhaf.
In other words, as the Harvard suit contends, "The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that Plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for."
In reporting on the Harvard law suit, and the more than two dozen similar suits which have already been filed, Breitbart notes that "George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf predicted that universities would face class-action lawsuits as a result of their decision to shut down their campuses. As Banzhaf predicted, many universities and colleges have offered prorated refunds on housing fees."
The Spread Of The Coronavirus
Higher education publications have been full of articles about what will happen in the fall. Some frankly predict that the risk of infection is simply too great, and that no amount of mask wearing, separating students in classrooms, nor attempts to force often irresponsible young people into always unfailingly adhering to social distancing will provide adequate protection.
Some note that experience has now shown that the virus can be spread, in as little as a hour, to others more than 14 feet away, and that a single sneeze from a careless student can propel germs about 200 feet.
In a classroom setting, any such sneeze would be directed towards the professor at the front of the classroom; many of whom are over 65 and/or have a variety of medical conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, etc. which put them at a much higher risk of suffering death, permanent disability, or at least a prolonged hospital stay if they become infected.
Other articles by higher education experts have suggested that universities are cagily announcing that they "plan" to resume classroom instruction in the fall, but actually expect to have to announce at the last minute - after most students have committed and tuition revenue is guaranteed - that they will face a term of Zoom U.
An alternative, which is also being discussed, is to technically begin instructions in classrooms, but nevertheless anticipate reverting very shortly thereafter to distance education; e.g., as soon as there is a reported campus case of COVID-19 or at least a hospitalization from COVID-19, when the "inevitable" second wave first begins to appear, or some other event creates a plausible justification.
But in all such cases, fraud and deceit would likely be added to the resulting class action law suits, Banzhaf predicts.
Pressure On Universities To Keep Their Classrooms Open
Meanwhile, if any early rulings in the dozens of Zoom U cases now pending suggest that courts are likely to allow them to proceed to a jury verdict, this will create intense pressure on universities to keep their classrooms open, even if they can reasonably foresee that this will result in many students and faculty becoming infected.
Banzhaf has also suggested that universities which try to force professors who are at especially high risk from the coronavirus - because of age and/or various medical conditions - are likely to face both law suits and formal legal complaints because, by law, they are entitled to much more protection than students.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA], employers must make a "reasonable accommodation" if necessary to provide adequate protection for employee with a disability such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Most agree that permitting such professors to engage in distance learning, or to take a sabbatical, would constitute a reasonable accommodation.
Also, many local anti-discrimination statutes - such as the D.C. Human Rights Act [DCHRA] - prohibit any action which might have the effect or consequence of discriminating against a person with a disability.
Complying With The OSH Act
Finally, universities must also comply with the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health [OSH] Act which requires employers to "furnish to each of its employees a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm," and especially its application - and increased safety requirements - for faculty who are especially vulnerable to death or disability from COVID-19.
Thus, quips Banzhaf - who has been called "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars" - both students and faculty are probably planning to "Sue The Bastards" this fall.