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Harvard Settles Class Action Lawsuit Demanding Partial Tuition Reimbursement

The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse is a federal courthouse located on Fan Pier in Boston, Massachusetts.
The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse is a federal courthouse located on Fan Pier in Boston, Massachusetts. By Justin F. Gonzalez
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

A group of students that sued Harvard for partial reimbursement of tuition after the University moved classes online due to the Covid-19 pandemic reached a settlement with the school, according to a filing by the students’ attorneys in court on Monday.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a notice filed in Massachusetts federal court that the “matter has been resolved” and that “a stipulation of voluntary dismissal will be filed shortly.” The terms of the settlement have not been made publicly available.

Daniel J. Kurowski and Spencer M. Cox, attorneys representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment on behalf of the students. Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton also declined to comment on the settlement.

The settlement brings to an end nearly three years of legal action against Harvard as students sought tuition compensation from the University for semesters when the Covid-19 pandemic moved classes online.

Harvard Law School student Abraham Barkhordar, School of Public Health student Sarah E. Zelasky, and Graduate School of Education student Ella M. Wechsler-Matthaei initially filed separate complaints in 2020. All three students have since graduated from Harvard.

Zelasky’s complaint, originally filed in May 2020, alleged a “breach of contract” between the University and its students, who had a “reasonable expectation” of in-person learning and living. Barkhordar’s lawsuit alleged a lower quality of education received virtually, as well as decreased academic rigor due to the Law School’s shift to a mandatory pass-fail grading system.

The three plaintiffs later filed a class action lawsuit in August 2020 covering students from all 12 of Harvard’s schools.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the University shifted to an online learning model in March 2020 but did not adjust tuition, which students alleged in the lawsuit caused more than $5 million in damages.

Harvard filed a motion to dismiss in October 2020 claiming it “never made a promise, contractual or otherwise” to conduct in-person learning. In June 2021, Massachusetts District Court Judge Indira Talwani ’82 granted the University’s request to dismiss the case.

Massachusetts District Court Judge Angel Kelley reversed Talwani’s dismissal in March 2022 but limited the lawsuit’s scope to students enrolled in the Graduate School of Education, Law School, and School of Public Health during the spring 2020 semester.

Harvard is one of several universities that have faced lawsuits seeking tuition reimbursement for virtual semesters due to the pandemic. In September, Brown University settled a $1.5 million class action lawsuit for tuition and fee refunds.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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