Family Sues Stanford After Student Who Spilled Coffee on Friend’s Alleged Rapist Is Found Dead

Katie Meyer at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.
Katie Meyer at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.

The family of the late Katie Meyer, formerly Stanford University’s star soccer captain, is suing the university for wrongful death, after Meyer took her life in her dorm room in February. Last week, Santa Clara County ruled that “there is no indication of foul play, and Meyer’s death was determined to be self-inflicted,” prompting Meyer’s family to file a lawsuit on Wednesday, Sports Illustrated reported.

Meyer’s death came almost immediately after she received notice that she faced disciplinary action for an incident in which she’d spilled coffee on a football player who allegedly raped her underage teammate. According to an email Meyer received on the evening of her death, this potentially put her diploma on hold and also put her positions as a student and an athlete at the school in jeopardy.

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According to her family’s lawsuit, obtained by Sports Illustrated, “the actions that led to [Meyer’s] death began and ended with Stanford University.” The suit calls the disciplinary charge against her “reckless” and claims that it “caused Katie to suffer an acute stress reaction that impulsively led to her suicide.”

USA Today, which also obtained the lawsuit, reported that Meyer’s family says her “suicide was completed without planning and solely in response to the shocking and deeply distressing information she received from Stanford while alone in her room without any support or resources.’’ The suit further claims that Meyer responded to the email informing her of the charge against her by “expressing how ‘shocked and distraught’ she was,” yet “Stanford employees made no effort whatsoever to check on Katie’s well-being.” The lawsuit names the school’s board of trustees, president, deans and associate deans, vice provost, and general counsel as defendants.

The university has responded to the family’s lawsuit by denying any responsibility for her death. “The Stanford community continues to grieve Katie’s tragic death and we sympathize with her family for the unimaginable pain that Katie’s passing has caused them. However, we strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death,” Dee Mostofi, a Stanford spokeswoman, told People in a statement last week.

Mostofi confirmed that Stanford’s Office of Community Standards (OCS) had “received a complaint regarding alleged behavior by Katie that resulted in physical injury” and “launched a review of that allegation.” That review prompted the OCS to move to schedule a hearing regarding Meyer’s conduct and potential disciplinary action, Mostofi said, but nonetheless, Meyer was offered “an advisor to work with her throughout the process and told her she could have a support person of her choosing with her in any meeting or conversation with OCS.”

Meyer and her teammates at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.
Meyer and her teammates at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.

Meyer’s family’s legal team argues that her death is a tragic reflection of broader issues with the school’s “egregious and reckless mishandling of its disciplinary process,” they said in a statement to SI. The statement quoted an appraisal by a community committee at the school, which called the school’s disciplinary process “‘overly punitive’ and harmful to its students.”

“Through this litigation we will not only obtain justice for Katie, but also ensure necessary change is put into place to help protect Stanford students and provide safeguards when students are in need of support,” the statement continues.

It can’t be emphasized enough that Meyer died shortly after facing punishment for retaliating against a student who allegedly raped a minor on her team. The unfair treatment Meyer faced is the latest in the university’s history of appearing to protect assailants at the expense of rape victims. Chanel Miller, who was assaulted by former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, has said the university failed to offer her sufficient resources and support following the assault. Around the same time that Turner was found guilty of sexual assault, the school faced a separate lawsuit for allowing a student known to have sexually assaulted four other students to graduate.

Stanford’s response to criticisms of how it handles campus sexual assault has largely been to restrict alcohol and discourage students from walking on dark, unlit pathways on campus at night. The school’s punishment of Meyer, which her family says led to her death, shows how little has changed over the years.

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