Content warning: this article contains references to suicide and sexual assault. If you or someone you know are in need of help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
The parents of Katie Meyer filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stanford University at the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Wednesday. Meyer, a student and star soccer player at Stanford, died by suicide in the spring.
The lawsuit alleges that “the actions that led to the death of Katie Meyer began and ended with Stanford University.”
Meyer, the lawsuit states, was facing disciplinary action at the time of her death for allegedly spilling coffee on a football player who the lawsuit said sexually assaulted another player on the women’s soccer team, who was a minor at the time of the alleged assault.
A spokesperson for the University disputed the allegations made in the lawsuit, calling some of them “false and misleading.”
On the eve of her death, Meyer received a formal charge letter from the Office of Community Standards regarding the alleged incident that had taken place six months prior, the lawsuit said. The letter notified Meyer, who was on track to graduate this year, that her diploma was being placed on hold and “[threatened] her status as a Stanford student, Captain and member of the Soccer team, Residential Advisor, Mayfield Fellow, Defense Innovative Scholar, and her ability to attend Stanford Law school, amongst many other things,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the letter was sent “negligently and recklessly” and that an “acute stress reaction” to the University’s communication likely caused or substantially contributed to Meyer’s death. Meyer had no prior history of suicidal urges and had made extensive plans for the coming weeks before her death, according to the lawsuit.
“Katie’s 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 lawsuit said.
University spokesperson Dee Mostofi wrote in a statement provided to The Daily and other news outlets, including ESPN and CNN, that the University “strongly disagree[s] with any assertion that the University is responsible for her death.”
“We plan to fully defend the university and named defendants against these allegations,” Mostofi wrote.
Mostofi confirmed that the Office of Community Standards had launched a review of Meyer’s alleged behavior and wrote that “it was found that a high threshold was met for the matter to proceed to a hearing.”
But Mostofi added that the University is “committed to supporting students through the student judicial process under OCS, and we did so in this case.” Mostofi said the University offered Meyer an advisor and told her she could have a support person present in meetings or conversations with OCS.
Meyer was also given a number to call for immediate support that is available 24 hours a day, according to Mostofi (the lawsuit alleges that the disciplinary charge was communicated at 7 p.m., “after-hours,” when Meyer was alone in her room without accessible resources and support). Mostofi wrote that Meyer also wrote to OCS staff and received a reply within an hour offering her several available times to meet with staff.
Mostofi also addressed the allegation that a football player sexually assaulted another player on the women’s soccer team. Mostofi wrote that the University reported this allegation to the Title IX Office and the police, but the Title IX Office did not pursue the matter as “the criteria for moving forward with an investigation were not met.”
Meyer’s death was followed by an outpouring of support from the Stanford community and the broader athletics community.
In May, Meyer’s parents, Gina and Steve, launched “Katie’s Save,” a proposed policy that aimed to establish mechanisms for closer contact between universities and parents about challenges facing their children. A group of Stanford alumni also called on Stanford in August to amend student disciplinary proceedings that they alleged may have contributed to Meyer’s death.
The University pledged to increase mental health resources for students after Meyer’s death. While some have reported persisting staffing issues at Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services, a spokesperson told The Daily that the University was working to address these shortages amid challenging labor market conditions.