CUNY settles mental health case

New York’s Hunter College settled a lawsuit last week with a student who alleged that the school barred her from her dormitory after she tried to commit suicide. The student’s suit resembles that of former GW student Jordan Nott, who filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University in October 2005.

The Hunter College student, known as Jane Doe in the suit due to privacy concerns, called 911 and admitted herself to a hospital after taking a large number of Tylenol pills in June 2004, said one of her lawyers, Karen Bower, who also represents Nott. While in the hospital for a few days, the locks to Doe’s dorm room were changed and she was barred from campus housing, Bower said. The student filed suit against the City University of New York system, of which Hunter College is a part, in August 2004.

Nott’s lawsuit alleges that GW discriminated against him by suspending him from class, removing him from University housing and barring him from campus after he checked himself into GW Hospital while depressed. Nott says he was not suicidal. He also alleges GW Hospital and the University Counseling Center shared information about his depression with administrators. GW has denied any wrongdoing.

CUNY settled with the student for $65,000 to be paid monthly over four years in an agreement approved by federal district judge Sidney H. Stein Aug. 22. CUNY will also pay a total of $100,000 in attorney’s fees to the two law firms representing Doe.

Bower said because settlements do not set precedent, the Hunter College suit would not have any bearing on the GW suit. She did, however, draw parallels between GW and CUNY, saying both schools use a “blanket policy” that penalizes students who seek treatment for mental health issues.

“(Hunter College) didn’t conduct an individualized assessment. It didn’t matter she was cleared to return to the dorm, and she did in fact continue to attend school,” Bower said. “She was nonetheless banned from the dormitory, and that’s similar because again, you have someone seeking treatment … and upon the university learning of that person seeking treatment, there is some punitive action taken.”

GW has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing against Nott. The school says it did not violate Nott’s confidentiality, and someone such as a friend may have alerted the University of his condition. The school also says its policies are about ensuring the safety of both the affected individual and the community he or she lives in.

A letter dated Aug. 15 from the New York Attorney General’s office accompanying the settlement said CUNY is in the process of reviewing Hunter College’s suicide policy. CUNY’s press office did not respond to a phone call from The Hatchet asking about the review.

The Hatchet reported in December 2005 that the University was considering a plan to possibly alter University Counseling Center policies to mandate that students sign a waiver of confidentiality before receiving services. Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said last week in an e-mail, “regarding the confidentiality waiver, no changes have been made and there are no changes planned.” Schario added that the University does anticipate making changes to its involuntary medical and mental health withdrawal policy this fall, but no decisions have been confirmed yet.

Bower said if Nott’s case reached a trial, it would not occur for at least a year.

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