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/ December 9, 2009
I Only Got Into GSP?! I’m Suing!

gspNYU, as an organization with a lot of money, sees its fair share of lawsuits: slip and fall cases, personal injury, etc. Today, by accident, I came across an Appellate Supreme Court decision decided last week Enchanted download. On its face, it sounds pretty boring: the plaintiff, a former NYU employee, sued NYU for a breach of contract. But the reason he’s suing? His kid only got into GSP, not CAS.

Obviously, it’s a little more complicated than that (and, yes, I know it’s called LSP now). Get the facts and tell us how you would have ruled after the jump.

The following is an abridged version of the case. For the full Court decision and background, go here.

A former NYU professor of clinical medicine, Neal Flomenbaum, quit his job over a tenure dispute back in the ’80s. In 2002, the school settled the fight with him by, along with other agreements, offering him this clause:

[Flomenbaum’s children] shall be entitled to tuition remission upon admission to New York University for undergraduate or graduate study. Their admission to New York University and their entitlement and advantages to tuition remission shall be on the same basis with the same courtesies as a then current, active, full-time employed, tenured member of the faculty of the School of Medicine or a retired, tenured member of the faculty of the School of Medicine, whichever is greater (emphasis added).

Basically, his kids could go to school at NYU for free, granted they got in.

His son Adam applied to CAS in 2005. He did not note on his application that the above agreement had been made. Instead, Flomenbaum called Richard Levin, the administrator with whom he settled the tenure dispute, to inform him Adam was applying. Levin testified that he told Robert Berne, the “key liaison” between the Med School and the rest of NYU, about the contract and Adam’s application.

Berne never told the Admissions department about Adam’s right to faculty child status. Unaware of the contract, the University admitted Adam to GSP.

As the Court’s decision notes:

An applicant’s relationship with an NYU employee would be taken into account after the file has been read but before an official decision is made. In this regard, an evaluation is made as to whether the recommended action on the application appears to be equitable. Relationship to a faculty or staff member is considered a positive if an applicant is considered “on the bubble,” i.e., distinguished by some but not all of the characteristics deemed necessary for admission.

When specifically asked if the Admissions department took into account the tuition remission contract when evaluating Adam’s application, the University said, “No.”

Only after the decision had been made did Berne ask Admissions to review his file. The department stood by their decision, saying his 3.2 GPA and 1340 SAT, while meeting the baseline criteria, didn’t even put him “on the bubble” for admission into CAS.

Adam enrolled at GSP before backing out because NYU wouldn’t let him take electives he wanted. He went to the University of Miami and then transferred in his Sophomore year to Columbia.

Flomenbaum is suing for damages, including the tuition of both schools. He claims the University breached its contract by not extending the courtesies he was promised and offering only 2 years of tuition remission (in GSP) rather than the standard 4 (in CAS).

The question is: did Adam receive the same courtesies as a child of an NYU employee would have received?

The Supreme Court said yes, ruling in favor of NYU. The Appellate Court upheld the decision, arguing that, despite the initial communication failure, Adam’s application did ultimately receive a second look, fulfilling NYU’s contractual duties.

Two judges dissented, arguing that the initial admission to GSP “provides significant support for [Flomenbaum’s] allegation that Adam would have been admitted to CAS if Adam had received the courtesies…”(my emphasis). They added that only a jury could determine whether or not the second look was because of the contractual obligation or because of the original breach of contract.

How would you have ruled?