What Does “Suing A University” Mean? (FAQs) | 2023

Suing a university can be intimidating, but in some cases, it may be necessary for some individuals or groups to do so.

Legal action against a university can be taken for several causes, including discrimination, sexual harassment, breach of contract, and intellectual property disputes. 

In this article, we’ll explore what it means to sue a university, the legal procedures involved, and the probable consequences of such a lawsuit.

What does it Mean To Sue A University?

Suing a university refers to initiating legal proceedings against a higher education institution. 

This legal action can be taken for various reasons, including discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, breach of contract, or intellectual property disputes.

The legal process of suing a university typically involves filing a complaint or lawsuit in court and outlining the details of the alleged wrongs committed by the university. 

The university is then required to respond, and the legal proceedings begin.

8 Types Of Lawsuits Against Universities

Many legal claims and lawsuits may be brought against universities for various reasons related to their activities.

Here are some of the most common types of lawsuits that individuals or groups may file against universities:

1. Discrimination lawsuits

A discrimination lawsuit may be brought if a university has broken federal or state anti-discrimination rules.

This can include prejudice based on a person’s gender, color, religion, age, physical or mental handicap, or sexual orientation.

2. Sexual harassment lawsuits

If a university has failed to address instances of sexual harassment, assault, or violence on campus, victims may choose to file a lawsuit against the university.

3. Wrongful termination lawsuits

These lawsuits can be filed if an employee feels her contract was terminated without cause or due process.

4. Breach of contract lawsuits 

The affected party may file a breach of contract lawsuit if a university fails to fulfill the terms of a contract, such as an employment contract or a student’s enrollment agreement, 

5. Intellectual property disputes 

Any alleged infringement on someone’s intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks, or copyrights, can attract lawsuits to a university.

6. Admissions lawsuits

In some cases, individuals may file lawsuits against universities related to admissions policies, such as alleged discrimination in the admissions process or a failure to follow stated admission requirements.

7. Academic misconduct lawsuits

If a university fails to address academic misconduct, such as plagiarism or cheating, affected parties may choose to file a lawsuit against the university.

8. Contract disputes

Universities often have contractual relationships with vendors, suppliers, and third-party service providers. 

Contract disputes may arise if there are disagreements about the terms of a contract or if one party fails to fulfill its obligations under the contract.

These are just a few examples of the many lawsuits individuals or groups may file against universities.  Each case is unique, and the specific legal claims made will depend on the circumstances of the case. 

Suppose you believe that you have a legal claim against a university. In that case, it’s essential to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your legal options and guide you through the legal process.

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6 Challenges Of Suing A University

Here are some of the common challenges associated with suing a university:

Filing a lawsuit against a university can be daunting, especially for those unfamiliar with legal procedures. 

The process involves filing a complaint, gathering evidence, and appearing in court, which can be complicated and time-consuming.

Legal fees associated with filing a lawsuit can be expensive, and not everyone can afford to pay them. This can be a significant barrier to seeking legal action against a university.

3. Facing retaliation or pushback from the university

Universities may push back against individuals or groups who file a lawsuit, such as denying access to facilities or resources or taking disciplinary action against them. 

This can create a hostile environment and add to legal action challenges.

4. Dealing with negative publicity

Legal action against a university can attract adverse publicity, damaging the plaintiff’s reputation or the group they represent. 

This can result in backlash from the public or other parties, making it challenging to maintain a positive image.

5. Facing the burden of proof

In legal proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, meaning they must provide sufficient evidence to support their claims. 

This can be challenging when suing a university, as the university may have greater access to resources and legal representation.

6. Dealing with emotional stress

Suing a university can be emotionally draining, often involving reliving traumatic experiences and navigating a complex legal system. This can affect the prosecuting party’s mental health and well-being.

5 Outcomes Of Lawsuits Against Universities

Lawsuits against universities can have a range of outcomes, depending on the nature of the case and the evidence presented. 

Here are some of the potential outcomes of lawsuits against universities:

1. Financial settlements

A financial settlement is one of the most common outcomes of lawsuits against universities. 

This involves the university paying a sum of money to the plaintiff or plaintiffs to compensate for the harm or damages they have suffered. 

The settlement amount may be negotiated through mediation or determined by a judge or jury in a trial.

2. Changes to university policies

Lawsuits against universities can also result in changes to university policies or practices. 

For example, if a lawsuit alleges discrimination or harassment, the university may be required to revise its policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

3. Court-mandated changes to university practices

Sometimes, a lawsuit against a university may result in court-mandated changes to university practices. 

This can include increased training for faculty and staff, changes to admissions policies, or implementation of new programs or services.

4. Public accountability

Lawsuits against universities can also bring attention to issues of public concern, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, or academic misconduct. 

In some cases, the public scrutiny generated by a lawsuit can hold universities accountable for their actions and promote change in the broader community.

5. No change

A lawsuit against a university may result in insignificant changes. 

Even if the plaintiff wins the case, the university may choose not to implement changes, or the changes may not significantly impact the institution.

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5 Examples Of High-Profile Cases Of Lawsuits Against Universities

Over the years, several high-profile cases have been of individuals or groups suing universities. Here are some recent examples:

1. Admissions policies

In 2019, a group of Asian-American students sued Harvard University, alleging that the university’s admissions policies discriminated against them. 

The case went to trial, and in 2021, a federal judge ruled in favor of Harvard, finding that the university’s policies were legal and did not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

2. Sexual assault

In 2015, a former Stanford University student filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that it had mishandled her sexual assault case. 

The case gained national attention, and in 2018, the university agreed to pay $1.7 million to the plaintiff and implement changes to its sexual assault policies.

3. Academic misconduct

In 2019, a group of former students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sued the university over an academic scandal involving fake classes. 

The lawsuit alleged that the university had engaged in academic misconduct and violated the rights of students who took the fake classes. 

In 2021, the university agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with the plaintiffs.

4. Discrimination

In 2018, a group of female professors at the University of Denver sued the university, alleging that they had been paid less than male colleagues for similar work. 

The lawsuit was settled in 2020, with the university agreeing to pay $2.66 million to the plaintiffs and implement changes to its pay policies.

5. Campus Safety

In 2021, a student at the University of Utah filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that it had failed to protect her from domestic violence. 

The case gained national attention, and in 2022, the university agreed to a $13.5 million settlement with the plaintiff’s family.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) On “Suing A University”

Can a university sue a student?

Yes, a university can sue a student if the student has violated a contract with the university or has committed another legal infraction. For example, a university might sue a student for breach of contract if the student fails to pay tuition or violates a code of conduct.

Can students sue universities if they are denied admission?

In general, it is unlikely for a student to successfully sue a university for denying them admission. Universities have the right to set their admission criteria and make decisions based on various factors, including academic qualifications, extracurricular activities, and other relevant factors. However, there may be certain circumstances where a student could sue a university for denying admission. For example, if the university’s admission decision was based on discriminatory or illegal factors, such as race, gender, or disability status, the student may have grounds to file a lawsuit.

Can I sue my university for continuously setting back my graduation date?

Whether or not you can sue your university for constantly setting back your graduation date depends on the circumstances and why your graduation date has been delayed. In general, universities have the right to set academic requirements and standards that students must meet to graduate. However, suppose you believe the university has misbehaved, such as failing to provide necessary resources or support or unfairly applying academic standards. In that case, you may be able to bring a legal claim against the university.


Suing a university is the legal process of filing a lawsuit against an academic institution for various reasons.

Such reasons include discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, breach of contract, or intellectual property disputes. 

While the legal procedures involved in suing a university can be complex and challenging, such lawsuits can result in outcomes such as financial settlements, changes to university policies, or court-mandated changes to university practices. 

High-profile lawsuits against universities have brought attention to important issues, such as the role of universities in addressing sexual assault and misconduct and the need for fair and equitable admissions policies. 

Ultimately, the decision to sue a university is a serious one that any individual should make after carefully considering the potential risks and benefits and with the guidance of legal professionals.

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