Pitt students sue for refunds over alleged tuition contract breach

By Benjamin Nigrosh, News Editor

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Two Pitt students filed a federal civil complaint against the University for allegedly retaining “full benefit” of student fees while not providing a proper quality of education or access to services, following the University’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claire Hickey and Akira Kirkpatrick, both students in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, filed the civil suit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and are seeking class-action status. The suit included two alleged counts of breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

The two students alleged the University breached its contract with students by failing to provide in-person and on-campus live education, as well as failing to provide access to services and facilities funded by the University’s mandatory fees after mid-March. The two students alleged that the University failed to follow through on the contract, in part by moving classes online, and has “retained monies paid by Plaintiffs and the Class for a live in-person education and access to these services.”

“The payment of tuition and Mandatory Fees for the Spring 2020 semester were intended to provide these benefits to Plaintiffs and the members of the Class throughout the Spring 2020 semester,” the complaint said. 

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Pitt is aware of the lawsuit, but does not intend on prorating tuition and fees beyond its current actions. The University has issued prorated refunds for housing and dining fees for students who moved out of on-campus housing on or before April 3.

“Despite a pandemic that forced a dramatic shift in operating status at Pitt, and in nearly every facet of society, our faculty and staff worked tirelessly and successfully to deliver a world-class education for our students this semester,” Zwick said.

Hickey and Kirkpatrick requested the University refund housing and dining fees for students who were unable to move out of on-campus housing after Pitt’s April 3 cutoff date. They also requested Pitt return tuition and mandatory fees for the final 35 days of the spring semester, based on the March 16 closure of many campus buildings.

Zwick said the University believes its decisions regarding refunds were “appropriate.”