Judge tosses most of law students' retaliation lawsuit against Yale

Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
  • The students alleged law school officials destroyed their shot at clerkships
  • Only one claim of intentional interference with perspective business remains

(Reuters) - A federal judge has dismissed the bulk of a lawsuit brought by two Yale law students who alleged retaliation by the school’s dean and other administrators, finding that the anti-retaliation policy at issue was not in effect when the plaintiffs declined to assist in the school’s investigation of a prominent professor.

Circuit Judge Sarah Merriam on Sept. 29 dismissed all but one claim brought by plaintiffs Sierra Stubbs and Gavin Jackson in the Connecticut federal court lawsuit. The pair sued in November, alleging they lost networking and career opportunities after they refused to make a statement against professor Amy Chua in an investigation into whether she violated an agreement to not socialize with students off campus.

Merriam allowed Stubbs and Jackson to proceed on one claim of intentional interference with prospective business relationship, finding sufficient evidence that the law school’s actions may have affected the plaintiffs’ ability to obtain a clerkship — a highly sought-after credential for law graduates.

“We are pleased with Judge Merriam's decision, recognizing that the defendants, including Yale and members of its staff, wrongly interfered with our client's professional futures,” said attorney John Balestriere, who is representing Stubbs and Jackson.

In a prepared statement, Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said the university is “gratified” by the ruling.

“The single remaining claim is legally and factually baseless, and Yale will offer a vigorous defense,” she said.

Stubbs and Jackson, who earlier failed in their bid to proceed with the case under pseudonyms, were the focus of a “dossier” created by another law student that sought to prove Chua was hosting students at her home in the spring of 2021. Chua, who rose to fame in 2011 with the publication of her controversial parenting book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," has denied any wrongdoing.

Both students met twice with Chua at her home in the spring, but only to privately discuss alienation they felt as minorities at the law school, according to their complaint. Jackson is Asian American, while Stubbs is Black. Stubbs is on leave from the law school, according to court documents.

Because they refused to corroborate the allegations against Chua, Stubbs and Jackson allege administrators pressured another professor against selecting them for a prestigious research post that could pave the way to federal clerkships and other opportunities.

Merriam found that Yale’s anti-retaliation policy was adopted after the events took place, and that it covers retaliation and harassment based on race and gender, which Jackson and Stubbs did not allege. She also dismissed their claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“The allegations of plaintiffs’ symptoms standing alone — insomnia, anxiety, nausea, and loss of appetite — are insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, especially since those symptoms ‘can be common responses to stress,’” she wrote.

The case is Stubbs v. Gerken, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, No. 3:21-cv-01525

For Stubbs and Jackson: John Balestriere of Balestriere Fariello

For Yale: Jonathan Freiman of Wiggin and Dana

Read more:

Yale fires back at law students' lawsuit over Amy Chua probe

Yale Law students 'blackballed' for refusing to lie about professor, lawsuit says

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com