Student files lawsuit against Mercer over spring coronavirus response

A Mercer University senior filed a class-action lawsuit against the school on behalf of all students who paid tuition for “in-person, hands-on educational services and experiences” in the spring 2020 semester. The lawsuit demands a tuition refund due to the fact that COVID-19 forced the university to put the remainder of the semester online. 

The student, Olivier Williams, claims in her lawsuit that failure to refund all or part of spring tuition is a breach of contract between the university and the students. She also says that the same quality of education that is promised to Mercer students was not achieved, according to the lawsuit. 

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Mercer Director of Media Relations Kyle Sears told local station 13WMAZ that “the University does not comment on frivolous lawsuits.”

Full-time undergraduate students paid approximately $37,500 in tuition and $500 in mandatory fees last semester. However, over 90% of students receive financial aid, including scholarships and federal grants, according to the university. The lawsuit claims that up to $5,000,000 is at stake. 

University instruction transitioned to a fully virtual format March 28 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and most students moved off campus. 

While Mercer did not refund tuition, partial refunds for housing and dining services were offered to students depending on certain factors, such as where the student lived and when they moved out of their rooms.

“We value our Bears and are sensitive to the unique circumstances presented by COVID-19 in the lives of our students and families. Mercer recognizes the financial hardship and other challenges these necessary interruptions have created for our students,” a May 14 email from the Office of the Bursar said. 

Mercer is not the only university to receive a lawsuit from students during the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 5, class action lawsuits have been filed against at least 26 universities across the U.S., according to NBC News. Among those schools are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Michigan State, Purdue and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Williams declined to comment Tuesday. The Cluster is awaiting comment from her lawyers.