A former student who alleged that GW barred him from campus and suspended him from class as a result of his treatment for depression has settled his lawsuit against the school out of court, his lawyer announced today.
Jordan Nott filed a civil suit in the D.C. Superior Court in October 2005. He alleged that GW policies discriminate against those who have mental illness and punish those who try to get help. His lawyer Karen Bower said the terms of the settlement, which was finalized yesterday, are confidential.
"I hope universities looking at this issue will see some of the policy concerns that we've raised," said Bower, a lawyer with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a legal advocacy organization for those with mental disabilities.
"I hope that this difficult experience will result in positive changes in how student mental health issues are handled at campuses across the country," Nott said in a statement released by GW. "And I certainly hope that other universities will not discipline their students for seeking mental health treatment."
Nott's suit said that in fall 2004, when Nott was a sophomore, information he shared with the University Counseling Center and GW Hospital about his depression was released to University administrators without his permission, leading to his suspension and barring from campus. Nott recently graduated from University of Maryland-College Park, Bower said.
Action taken against Nott was issued under the school's "endangering behavior policy." The policy applies to students whom the university suspects pose a danger to themselves and others. Bower has said policies like these stigmatize those who seek mental health treatment, while GW maintains the policy protects the safety of affected individuals and the community.
Criticism of this policy was at the heart of Nott's suit. Tracy Schario, GW's director of Media Relations, said the policy remains on the books. But, Schario said, GW is in the process of evaluating its involuntary medical and mental health withdrawal policies, and an announcement about possible changes could be made this semester.
"This was a very difficult situation. We were attempting to serve the best interests of Mr. Nott while also considering the well being of all of our students," said Dr. John F. Williams, GW provost and vice president for health affairs, in a statement. "While we recognize that some steps in the process may not have been perfect, we stand by the result."
Nott's suit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, the D.C. Mental Health Information Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Schario has said the counseling center never shared any of Nott's information with administrators, and in court documents filed in March, GW denied any wrongdoing and said it did not breach Nott's confidentiality.
Nott had been getting treatment at the University Council Center for depression, and he checked into GW Hospital Oct. 27, 2004, because he was concerned about general thoughts of suicide. He maintained in the suit he was not suicidal. Shortly after checking into the hospital, he received an interim suspension from the school and ultimately withdrew voluntarily.
Nott's lawyer, Bower, also represented a student at City University of New York who alleged her school barred her from her dormitory after she tried to commit suicide. CUNY settled that case out of court in August and agreed to pay the student, who remained anonymous in the suit, $65,000 to be paid monthly over four years, as well as $100,000 in attorney's fees. Bower told The Hatchet in August that if Nott's case reached a trial, it would not occur for at least a year.
"We really hope universities will revisit their policies, and the Bazelon Center is looking to put together guidelines for putting together policies that comply with the ADA and encourage students to get help while being safe and successful at school," Bower told The Hatchet Tuesday.