Editors’ note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or at https://988lifeline.org.
The family of Katie Meyer, the Stanford goalkeeper who died by suicide earlier this year, is suing Stanford University and other university officials, bringing forth claims of wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress and six other allegations.
Meyer, the former captain of the university’s soccer team, and a 2019 national champion, died in March 2022. She was 22 years old. Now, her family has filed a lawsuit claiming Stanford’s handling of a disciplinary process involving Meyer led to her death, directly alleging that “the actions that led to [her] death began and ended with Stanford University,” per the lawsuit obtained by Sports Illustrated.
“Katie Meyer’s tragic death resulted from Stanford’s egregious and reckless mishandling of its disciplinary process,” attorney Kim Dougherty said in a statement. “Stanford has known for years that its disciplinary process, in its own Committee 10’s words, is ‘overly punitive’ and harmful to its students, yet the school and its administrators have done nothing to correct its procedures. 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.”
Meyer’s family filed the lawsuit Wednesday, naming the University; the school’s board of trustees; school president Marc Tessier-Lavigne; deans and associate deans Lisa Caldera, Tiffany Gabrielson and Alyce Haley; vice provost Susie Brubaker-Cole and general counsel Debra Zumwalt. The Meyers are also claiming survival action, breach of implied contract, breach of contract, violation of California Education Code Section 66270, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium. The lawsuit says “Stanford’s after-hours disciplinary charge, and the reckless nature and manner of submission to Katie, caused Katie to suffer an acute stress reaction that impulsively led to her suicide.”
According to the suit, the disciplinary process in question stems from an August 2021 incident where Meyer allegedly spilled coffee on a football player who was accused of sexually assaulting a minor on Meyer’s team. Meyer’s father had previously told USA Today that the disciplinary matter came from Meyer defending a teammate.
The filing alleges that Stanford “selectively determined not to follow through with any formal discipline for the football player and he was allowed to play the entire season without any real consequence.”
The player, who remains unidentified, did not file the complaint to Stanford’s office of community standards (OCS), and said throughout the disciplinary process that he wanted to “make amends” and “did not want any punishment that impacts her life,” per the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that Meyer met with dean Caldera days after the alleged coffee-spilling incident and said it was an accident. After the conversation, Caldera filed a complaint with OCS, and Meyer was sent a letter in September 2021 stating it had been filed. According to the complaint, the letter contained “heavy legal jargon and threatening language,” and three days later associate dean Hayley acknowledged “that this is an inherently stressful process” in a correspondence.
Meyer met with associate dean Gabrielson in September and spoke about the incident. Gabrielson followed up the conversation with an email that said, “you were freaking out because you are senior and looking to go to law school…and the last thing you need is something to derail you,” per the lawsuit.
Meyer sent a formal statement in November 2021 regarding the allegations, where she said she had been “stressed out for months” and “terrified that an accident” would destroy her future. Per the lawsuit, Meyer also met with sports psychologists and discussed her increasing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
According to the lawsuit, Meyer had no contact with the OCS office from November 21, 2021, to February 25.
Based on the filing, it is unclear whether Meyer looked at an email she received on Feb. 25 from the office that noted she would soon know about a “formal charging decision in this matter.” She believed the process was over because she hadn’t heard from the office in months and she had been selected for prestigious honors from the university, according to the suit.
On the night of Feb. 28, Meyer received a five-page, single-spaced letter from the OCS charging her with “Violation of the Fundamental Standard.” According to the lawsuit, it “contained language assuming guilt.” A portion of the letter in the suit said, “The Judicial Officer shall determine that there is sufficient evidence to file formal charges when s/he concludes that a fair-minded panelist could find the allegation(s) to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.” The suit highlighted the phrases “there is sufficient evidence” and “find the allegation(s) to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The letter also noted that Meyer’s diploma would be placed on hold and the charges she faced could result in her expulsion. She received the letter on the last day that Stanford could bring forth charges, as the school must do so within six months of an incident.
According to the suit, Meyer promptly responded that she was “shocked and distraught” over the letter, and Stanford replied moments later with a date to meet but did not address her concerns. Computer forensics showed Meyer researching how to defend herself as well as looking back at the letter and attachments.
The filing said, “Stanford failed to respond to Katie’s expression of distress, instead ignored it and scheduled a meeting for 3 days later via email. Stanford employees made no effort whatsoever to check on Katie’s well-being, either by a simple phone call or in-person welfare check.’’
Meyer was found dead in her dorm room on March 1. Per the suit, the OCS letter was open on her computer screen at the time of her death.
Before her death, Meyer was planning on attending Stanford’s law school and waiting to hear back about the school’s decision.
The Meyer family is seeking restitution, damages and other reliefs. Meyer’s family also started the “Katie Save” project, with its goal being to “support students navigating dynamics of campus life that may be complicated with added pressures of academics, sports, performing arts and other activities,” according to the website.
Stanford spokesperson Dee Mostofi addressed the lawsuit’s claims in a statement to ESPN.
“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,” Mostofi wrote. “However, we strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death. While we have not yet seen the formal complaint brought by the Meyer family, we are aware of some of the allegations made in the filing, which are false and misleading.