Liberty student files class action lawsuit against university for reimbursement of room, board and meal plans

It comes as the school is under fire for keeping campus open.

April 14, 2020, 4:41 PM

A student from Liberty University is filing suit against the school over fees that were not reimbursed despite the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The private, evangelical institution came under fire after the university president, Jerry Falwell Jr., did not close campus and said students were welcome back amid the pandemic.

According to a lawsuit filed in the Western District of Virginia, the unidentified student is suing to get their housing, dining, health and other fees reimbursed. The lawsuit says that despite the university staying open, some services were not provided to them.

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"For all practical purposes, students who were living on Liberty’s campus, have been forced to make the difficult decision of whether to stay or return to a campus that has effectively been shut down, or to move home and sacrifice the amounts they have paid for room and board and other campus fees," the lawsuit says. "Given the fact that Liberty had moved all of its classes online and suspended campus services and activities combined with the very real health risks incumbent with remaining in the residential campus environment during the pandemic, not to mention the stay-at-home orders all around the country, including Virginia, most students chose to leave campus."

The suit says that Liberty has not offered a refund to students for not using services. Combined, some of the fees total upwards of $10,000.

A sign marks the entrance to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., March 24 , 2020.
Steve Helber/AP, FILE

In a statement to ABC News, a Liberty University spokesperson said that they have "tirelessly attempted to balance the needs of students, employees, and the community as it has navigated through the unprecedented health challenges presented by COVID-19."

The university said that it is "no surprise" that the plaintiff's lawyers are trying to profit during this pandemic adding, "we don’t believe this law firm or its single client speaks for the vast majority of our students."

"Similar class-action suits are pending against other schools, and such claims will no doubt be made against other higher education institutions that changed how they operate and deliver services to students in the face of COVID-19," the statement continued. "Liberty’s attorneys will defend against this lawsuit, which is without legal merit."

The lawsuit acknowledges that Liberty is offering a credit for $1,000 for fall 2020 charges, but says that Liberty’s actions are "unlawful and unfair."

In the past Falwell has defended his actions saying there was an "overreaction" to the pandemic.

"Liberty University, is in a very real sense profiting off the COVID-19 pandemic -- keeping its campus and campus services "open" as a pretext to retain Plaintiff’s and the other Class members’ room, board and campus fees, despite no longer having to incur the full cost of providing those services, all while putting students’ finances and health at risk," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also says that other institutions have reimbursed students for these services, but "Liberty, unfortunately, has taken the opposite approach."

The university said otherwise.

"That fact legally excuses Liberty’s adjustments and leaves the plaintiffs without a legal case. Even so, Liberty will still honor its pledge to provide $1,000 credits to certain students who have opted to move from the residence halls and will continue to allow its students to obtain academic credit in their educational programs online without interruption," the school said in response, adding that the campus is less populated and more sanitized.

The university indicated that there are currently no COVID-19 cases at the school.

The lawsuit against the school also says that there have been numerous petitions and cries from families to refund these services but they have not and that the plaintiff is suing anonymously out of fear of retribution, citing Falwell’s ability to use social media "to criticize and invite scorn upon anyone who criticizes him, Liberty or Liberty’s actions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic."

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