Student Punished For Facebook Study Group Files $10 Million Lawsuit

from the going-overboard dept

Two years ago, we chronicled what seemed like a bizarre story of Ryerson student Chris Avenir, who was threatened with expulsion for daring to setup an online study group for his chemistry class on Facebook. The university accused him of cheating, when he noted that this was really no different than if a bunch of the students all got together to study. The whole thing seemed pretty ridiculous. Eventually, the school decided not to expel him, but still punished him by giving him a zero on one assignment and putting a "disciplinary note" in his file. This still seemed ridiculous. How dare he get students together to study the material! In fact, many schools now encourage those kinds of online study groups.

That said, it's difficult to support Avenir's latest move, which is to file a class action lawsuit against Ryerson, asking for $10 million because he wasn't allowed to have a lawyer present at his disciplinary hearing (found via Michael Scott):
A statement of claim filed on Mr. Avenir's behalf says that students enrolled at Ryerson have been denied the right to have a lawyer present at disciplinary hearings. According to the document, the university violated its policy requiring that all hearings comply with the Statutory Powers Procedure Act, which guarantees a right to legal counsel. The policy states that all its Senate hearings must "be conducted in a manner consistent with" the act.
This is just taking it too far. Yes, the disciplinary action was crazy, but a $10 million class action lawsuit? That seems like a response purely out of spite.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:32pm

    "That seems like a response purely out of spite."

    Sounds to me like number selected purely to draw attention to the lawsuit.

     

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  2.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:35pm

    Intentional Streisand Effect?

    Perhaps by filing suit for a deliberately ridiculous sum of money Avenir is trying to capitalize on the Streisand Effect to punish Ryerson.
    (At least I hope so otherwise it is just NUTS)

     

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  3.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:40pm

    Still, it will be somewhat interesting to see if other students/alumni come forward with stories of being improperly disciplined without legal counsel.

     

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  4.  
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    rory beckwith (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:41pm

    It would appear that these days you play by the rules set by others $750 per song seems ridiculous.

    The school over stepped the boundary for them to realize this I think a $10 million slap is appropriate.

    It called fighting back. plus he could always argue that he would like to pay for his entertainment and that that missing grade has cost him the big paying job so to afford the outrageous cost of ebooks and electronic downloads it justified.

    more power to him, there needs to be consequences to these unfair actions and it appears that only money speaks more the pity, but play by the sword die by the sword.

     

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  5.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:47pm

    That seems like a response purely out of spite.

    OK. Fine. Maybe. Whats it worth to you to have been:
    1 Denied legal counsel
    2 a zero on one assignment (dont know the effect it had on his GPA, but it was negative. avg 100 + 100 + 0 etc)
    3 A "disciplinary note" that may follow you around for life.

    Spiteful? ABSOLUTELY!!!!! I Dont blame him.

    "Yes, the disciplinary action was crazy"
    Crazy is as crazy does.
    "disciplinary action" For having done nothing wrong.
    Screw em, hit em hard and make them think twice, or better yet, get the bean counters to force legal to adopt best practices to avoid this kind of legal action in the future.

     

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  6.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:52pm

    Re:

    Sweet, sweet spite.

     

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  7.  
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    vyvyan, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 1:54pm

    As you sow, so you reap.

    There is an old saying, "As you sow, so you reap." The school/university has a strange policy that entitles you to have a lawyer at disciplinary hearing. Not that I'm against it or for it, actually it's strange and far fetched thought for me. For any school which has such policy must act with more care and deliberation in taking insane decisions.

    To me the school must loose. This will open the eyes of people in education system where they just threaten students with expulsion and grade them poorly because the student was doing something they didn't wanted him to do. They should understand the importance of school in society. Even if we forget the moral responsibility of schools, they are also shrugging of their professional responsibilities. If they think they have dictatorial powers over students and they can commercialize education, if they think choose to ignore the rights of students, I don't have any sympathy for them.

    Probably in the kind of capitalistic society we live, this is one of the better and quick options to keep a check before it's too late.

     

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  8.  
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    Nina Paley, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:04pm

    education

    The school taught him well.

     

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  9.  
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    Kevin (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:05pm

    Rule of Thumb (according to a lawyer I know)

    Sue for more than you know you can get, and then settle for a number between that and what you think they are willing to spend.

     

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  10.  
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    Pixelation, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:10pm

    I think he is looking for a job with the RIAA.

     

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  11.  
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    Bengie, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:28pm

    Aiming high

    Aim high with $10mil, grab attention, settle for a free year of college.

    The main goal is to strike fear into the "powers at be", get your legal fees paid, and get compensated for your hassle.

     

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  12.  
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    Igor Zevaka (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    Sounds reasonable enough

    I think the threat of a $10 mil lawsuit is punishment enough for the little power tripping buerocrat who caused all this.

     

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  13.  
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    Ryan, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 2:50pm

    Nice

    An ivory tower sitting pretty on its mountain of licensing mandates, public funding, and tuition-burgeoning scholarships intentionally and unfairly fucks over a student and subsequently gets sued for $10 million? I damn well hope he gets it. In my experience, this behavior is quite typical in universities.

     

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  14.  
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    nebelhund (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 3:13pm

    Re: Rule of Thumb (according to a lawyer I know)

    I agree totally. The initial amount is to make a point. I doubt he expects to receive the full amount.

     

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  15.  
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    Jamie Carl (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 3:22pm

    This is just taking it too far. Yes, the disciplinary action was crazy, but a $10 million class action lawsuit? That seems like a response purely out of spite.

    Being a foreigner, the impression I get is that the entire US judicial system is fueled by spite.

     

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  16.  
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    Reason2Bitch (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Intentional Streisand Effect?

    You badly want to write a comment with "Streisand Effect" don't you!

    This is not a case of unintended (on the part of the student) consequences since he wanted publicity and he is getting it.

     

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  17.  
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    Pjerky (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 3:36pm

    Mike, I think your wrong.

    I usually agree with you Mike, but in this case I whole-heartedly don't. This large organizations keep bullying people left and right. Whether it be a corporation, a government entity, or just a school our rights keep getting trampled on and few are either willing or able (financially or otherwise) to fight back.

    It sickens me to no end to see these abuses of power time and time again with nothing done about it. These abuses require a measured response greater than just a little bit of public embarrassment. The school threatened to end his higher education over something petty that was blown out of proportion. That was a huge over-reaction. Then to spite him in the face of the PR mess they punished him the best they could at the time.

    That is like someone punching you for alerting a store to their shoplifting. They are the one doing the wrong, but you still get punished for it. Its not right and something has to be done about these bullies.

    So now the kid is stepping up and finding any way he can to fight back and let them know that they can't just keep having their way. Its bad enough that primary education (high school and below) is allowed to trample on the rights of its students, but colleges are dealing with young adults whom are of full legal age (18+). Once you are legally an adult then you LEGALLY have full rights and as such NO ONE is allowed to deny them to you, even a University.

    So yes, while it may be a bit spiteful it is also just. It is his right to punish those that harm him. In many ways justice is about spite. Its a you hurt me so I will return the favor scenario. If you think about it justice is just a controlled, measured, equivalent action form of spite.

     

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  18.  
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    McBeese, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 4:09pm

    This is cruel, but...

    I'm going to say something that is pretty cruel but...

    I can hardly wait for all of the non-Internet people in mainstream life to die-off so that we don't have to put up with their socially retarded perceptions and actions. The world has moved on but too many of these non-Internet people are still in positions where they impede the rest of us. It's like putting a bunch of zombies on the court during an NBA basketball game.

    In this case, we're talking about a school, FFS. Ryerson hasn't discovered the value of facebook and the Internet yet? Note to self: never, ever hire a Ryerson grad.

    I'm just sayin'...

     

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  19.  
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    bob, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 4:15pm

    Due Process

    He was given limited or no due process, punished for sticking up for himself. I hope he wins the full amount.
    Ryerson broke it's honour code, and it should have to pay for it's lack of fealty.

     

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  20.  
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    Ryan Diederich, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 4:58pm

    wow

    This is actually one of the most well planned out Streisand Effects i have seen.

    Congrats to him!

     

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  21.  
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    teknosapien, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 5:42pm

    I disagree with "This is just taking it too far"

    How long will people be pushed around. chances are he's paying or paid for this education and the fact that he had an innovative idea at the time that worked seems to have pissed off the administration of higher education. I would think that this is the type of out of the box approach to a problem would have been applauded in an institution of higher education. rather than the tact that was taken

    I say good for him and I hope he Wins!

     

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  22.  
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    Tarliman, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 6:11pm

    Appropriate? Yes.

    If you don't hit them hard enough, they won't pay attention.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 6:17pm

    Action and reaction!

    Whoops, Looks like the university got the wrong end of buggery this time. Should we all feel bad for them? Its a lesson in unintended consequences.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 7:27pm

    I hope he wins

     

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  25.  
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    Rex Karz (profile), Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 8:56pm

    Punitive damages should be exactly that: punitive!

    The institution broke its own rules, then further punished the student by putting a disciplinary note in his file and reducing a grade to 0.

    I suppose a 10-million U$D fine will, indeed, discourage them from doing it, or something like it, again.

    Agreed?

     

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  26.  
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    MrSonPopo, Mar 23rd, 2010 @ 11:05pm

    10 Mil $$$ is unfair. Such a value will not only harm the university, but other students as well, as the university will be drained of its resources.

    The reasonable line here would be to sue the people involved in the disciplinary action and for a few thousands of $$$, not an amount that drives them to misery. A few thousands of $$$ is sufficient that they'll remember to be careful in the future.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 12:14am

    Good on him. It's about time that "Ry High" got a dose of reality. Shitty fucking school anyway.

     

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  28.  
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    grumpy (profile), Mar 24th, 2010 @ 1:39am

    Enough? No

    > A few thousands of $$$ is sufficient that they'll remember to be careful in the future

    No. That kind of money will not be visible internally, they'll just pay it out of some random account and continue as before. I fully agree with his strategy. 10 M$ will not only get the attention of the media but hopefully also make the board sit up and take notice. Only way to rattle a buke-rat - kick his superior, not his anterior.

     

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  29.  
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    Etch, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 2:54am

    Re:

    This was in Toronto, Canada

     

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  30.  
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    Ed Woychowsky, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 5:09am

    Re: Sounds reasonable enough

    Not hurts a big fish in a small pond more than draining the pond.

     

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  31.  
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    NullOp, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 6:10am

    Dumb!

    I've heard some dumb shit in my many years on this planet but a school trying to suppress a study group rates near the top of the list! The school NEEDS to be slapped with a suit and LOSE!

     

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  32.  
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    jsf (profile), Mar 24th, 2010 @ 6:34am

    It doesn't really matter if the suit was filed out of spite or not. It is still something that needs to be done because without it the school will just continue to abuse their students by bullying them and not following their own rules.

    I ran into similar crap decades ago in high school, but I couldn't make too many waves because my father taught at the school and pushing things too far would have jeopardized his job.

     

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  33.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Mar 24th, 2010 @ 7:45am

    Settle

    My guess is that if it looks like he will prevail, then the school will compromise by correcting his grade, removing the disciplinary note from his school record, and paying some amount of $$, though not likely the entire amount. Usually in cases like this, the demand amount is a starting place for negotiation. So, I think he is dealing with this in the correct way, as long as he IS willing to compromise with the school.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Re: Appropriate? Yes.

    Agreed. The nice big round number is just to garner attention, not out of spite.

     

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  35.  
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    DJ, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    Re: As you sow, so you reap.

    "There is an old saying, "As you sow, so you reap." "

    Just to be clear, that "old saying" is actually a passage in the Bible:
    "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Galattions 6:7

    Woot for unintentionally evangelizing, vyvyan!

     

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  36.  
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    DJ, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: As you sow, so you reap.

    *Galatians

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    DJ, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re:

    ...but he makes a good point, nonetheless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    DJ, Mar 24th, 2010 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Settle

    The only problem I would foresee in that solution would be the grade correction. Unless he has kept every bit of work he did for that class.... and even then, can he prove that it was actually completed during the class? But the rest, I agree with.

     

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  39.  
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    jenningsthecat (profile), Mar 24th, 2010 @ 4:17pm

    A response purely out of spite?

    Not at all! Sometimes the only thing that gets the attention of lunkheads such as those being sued, is a VERY big stick. In my experience such people are generally incorrigible and unrepentant, and WILL NOT consider the morality, (or lack thereof), of their actions. Often the only way to get them to change their behaviour is to hit them where it hurts, and hit them hard. Enter the 10 megabuck class action suit...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    yuregininsesi, Jun 24th, 2010 @ 4:27pm

    There is an old saying, "As you sow, so you reap." The school/university has a strange policy that entitles you to have a lawyer at disciplinary hearing. Not that I'm against it or for it, actually it's strange and far fetched thought for me. For any school which has such policy must act with more care and deliberation in taking insane decisions.

    To me the school must loose. This will open the eyes of people in education system where they just threaten students with expulsion and grade them poorly because the student was doing something they didn't wanted him to do. They should understand the importance of school in society. Even if we forget the moral responsibility of schools, they are also shrugging of their professional responsibilities. If they think they have dictatorial powers over students and they can commercialize education, if they think choose to ignore the rights of students, I don't have any sympathy for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2010 @ 7:51am

    Re:

    i agree with you on this and im from here

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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