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Cornell University reaches $3 million settlement after canceling in-person classes in 2020 due to COVID-19
Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cornell University reaches $3 million settlement after canceling in-person classes in 2020 due to COVID-19

Cornell University reached a $3 million settlement agreement regarding a class-action lawsuit filed by a student over its COVID-era restrictions.

According to a statement released by the Ivy League school last week, students who were enrolled in a degree program in spring 2020 may be eligible to receive reimbursement for tuition and fees.

The lawsuit, filed by Alec Faber in April 2020, accused the university of refusing to return money to students after shutting down in-person classes due to COVID concerns and switching to virtual instruction.

Faber's complaint argued that in-person tuition covers more than just classroom instruction and therefore, "Online instruction is not commensurate with the same classes being taught in person." Tuition to attend classes on campus also includes access to campus facilities, extracurricular activities, and hands-on learning experiences, the lawsuit stated.

"While closing campus and transitioning to online classes was the right thing for the Defendant to do, this decision deprived Plaintiff and other members of the Class from recognizing the benefits of in-person instruction, meals, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services for which they had already paid fees and tuition," the lawsuit stated.

The university canceled in-person classes in March 2020, and most students were required to leave the campus by the end of the month. The lawsuit requested refunds for tuition, meals, fees, and other expenses.

While Cornell did not accept any wrongdoing allegations claimed in the lawsuit, it agreed to settle the case.

"Plaintiffs alleged the University breached a contract when it transitioned to virtual education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs also alleged that the University's shift to virtual education gave rise to claims of unjust enrichment," Cornell's statement read.

"The University denies any breach of contract and denies all other allegations of wrongdoing, and there has been no finding of liability in any court," the statement continued. "However, considering the interests of both the University and its students in prompt resolution of the matter, the University and Plaintiffs have agreed that the University will pay $3,000,000 into a Settlement Fund to resolve the Action."

Students who were enrolled in an in-person degree-bearing program for the spring 2020 semester and who did not leave the university on or before March 1, 2020, are eligible to receive reimbursement.

Joel M. Malina, the Ivy League school's vice president for university relations, said, "Cornell is pleased to have reached this settlement, which both sides believe is in the best interests of all parties."

The settlement's final approval hearing is scheduled for December. According to August filings, the university has 24,000 enrolled students. If the settlement agreement is approved and all eligible students agree to participate, each student could receive a $125 reimbursement, the Independent reported.

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