Campus, News

Alumna files lawsuit against university for alleged disability maltreatment

A Boston University alumna is suing the university for allegedly failing to accommodate her disability, which was caused when a fellow student attacked her at the Breadwinners. PHOTO BY RUI HUANG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

A former Boston University student has filed a lawsuit against the university after allegedly being attacked by a fellow student in the Breadwinners at the Questrom School of Business, claiming BU failed to provide a safe space and did not accommodate her disabilities caused by the incident.

Alicia Schaefer, who graduated from Questrom in 2015, filed the suit in October, 2016. The linked case involves eight claims, all of which stemmed from the attack that took place in 2013, when Yongjie Fu, her classmate, allegedly “body-checked” her after a dispute in the restaurant.

The docket report filed with the Suffolk County Superior Court Civil Clerk’s Office states that Schaefer and Fu were enrolled in two of the same courses that semester. Schaefer was uneasy around Fu because of his “loud” and “aggressive” behavior, where he would consistently follow and bother her, according to the docket.

At the restaurant, Fu got in line behind Schaefer, where he screamed at her and ripped a sandwich out of her hands before he began physically attacking her, the docket states.

“Fu completely lost it, and seemingly out of nowhere body-checked Ms. Schaefer. And what happened was first she went head first into a wall, and then onto the floor,” said Sara Burns, one of Schaefer’s lawyers. “Fu is not a small person … and as a result [Schaefer] had many injuries: both head injuries as well as injuries to some of her limbs, and so she was on crutches for the remainder of the semester.”

Criminal charges were filed against Fu in addition to Schaefer’s current civil charges against him. Her four allegations filed against Fu are for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery.

The other four claims Schaefer filed in the case are against BU. The first and primary allegation is for BU’s violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which guarantees certain rights to people with disabilities.

The other three claims accuse BU for allegedly creating an abusive educational environment for Schaefer, cluding carelessly employing Fu as a teaching assistant and failing to protect Schaefer from harassment and battery, according to the docket.

The university declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Fu’s lawyers did not respond to numerous requests for comment by press time.

Burns said that in recovering from the attack, Schaefer needed certain accommodations from BU that were not provided to her.

“Because of her injuries, she really needed extended time in taking different exams and needed time away from the university to get medical care,” Burns said. “The nature of her head injury in particular severely limited the amount of time she was say, supposed to think in a day. Head injuries are very unique in that … for the brain to heal itself, it might require a lot of extra rest, and one of the main claims that we have against BU relates to that. They really weren’t accommodating her disabilities in that sense.”

Schaefer’s claim states that she requested accommodations that would neither fundamentally alter her academic program nor create unnecessary financial or administrative burdens to BU, but these requests were not met.

Burns said that Schaefer was forced to choose between her academic success and personal health in a way that no student should be forced to do.

“From the student’s perspective, you want to do the best you can academically, you want to take care of yourself, and she was in this very difficult position where if she was doing her best academically, she couldn’t take care of herself,” Burns said. “And BU really didn’t do all that it could to make sure that she wasn’t placed in that position, it just wasn’t accommodating her.”

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