I'm considering sue my alma mater for intentional infliction of emotional distress (if they won't settle with me). However, at the same time, it wouldn't be worth jeopardizing my chances at another university that I want to apply to. So, if someone sues one university, will other universities the person applies to find out? (Would it be mentioned in letter of recommendation etc.or would all faculty decline to write the person a letter?) And even if another does find out about a lawsuit, would it affect their decision to admit the person?

I worry that if they found out, the new university would perceive me as litigious and decide not to admit me, yet at the same time, I believe a lawsuit is warranted if my former university doesn't settle with me.


When I applied for graduate school, I submitted a cover letter, samples of writing, GRE scores, transcript, and three letters of recommendation. I’m sure the requirements differ by department, field, and university. Clearly, none of these things would have included reference to a potentially ongoing legal situation. For that reason, I do not see why your proposed situation would influence your admissions chances, especially if these individuals are outside of the field you’re pursuing graduate studies in.

As for the ways of resolving the issue without resorting to a lawsuit, I recommend thinking deeply about what you’re seeking out of the lawsuit. From what I can tell, you were seeking to withdraw a complaint and you found out the complaint was not officially filed. If this were the case, you seem to have gotten what you originally wanted in a roundabout way and could move on with reasonable ease. If you’re looking to file a lawsuit out of principle, then you’ve made up your mind and the question is moot. I empathize with the unnecessary guilt you felt and hope you can choose a path that allows you to grow and continue with your life.

Most importantly, I advise you to seek professional help regarding the stress, anxiety, and any other potential mental health concerns before beginning graduate school. I advise this with knowledge of graduate life and knowledge of the association between graduate school and battles with mental health. I want you to be in the best position to be successful in your studies and future career. I suggest professional help as no one on the internet can know your needs. You will ultimately be responsible for deciding what you need to be happy and successful.

  • Please remove this phrase: "I do not mean this in a derogatory way." Saying someone should seek professional mental health treatment is never derogatory, and you are implying it could be, which I think is the opposite of your intent. Imagine if I wrote "Since you have broken your arm, you should see a doctor. I do not mean this in a derogatory way." That would be absurd. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 '20 at 2:18
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Thank you for the suggestion. I agree the phrase should never be used in a derogatory way. I have experienced situations where it was which is why I had added. I agree such a projection has no place in healthy interaction and you are correct with my intent. I wanted the OP to know seeking help is a responsible and healthy decision which should be and is supported. – Cardinal Jul 19 '20 at 2:27

Graduate programmes are generally oversubscribed. And admissions decisions are not an exact science - usually one is left deciding between a pool of people who are all well-qualified candidates.

Unfortunately for you, people talk. Academia is a small world, and people in the same field are often old friends. Your story has all the hallmarks of good post-conference bar gossip, and the more you scratch the itch, the worse things get. ("You know that student I told you about over at State University? Well, you'll never guess what's happened now - they're actually trying to sue the department Chair! It just gets better and better! Anyway, more wine?") Yes, it's probably a violation of student confidentiality. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

So, when your application comes across my desk, I now know you as 'that student who fell out with everyone in State University'. Of course, I have no idea whether you're in the right or not. But you come with a red flag - you might end up causing trouble for my department too. Meanwhile, I've got half a dozen other well-qualified applicants who haven't acquired a reputation for being litigious. Maybe it's safer to just pick one of them. After all, your statement of purpose isn't quite as good as this other one, is it...?

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    This answer takes a paranoid approach. If an undergraduate has a bad reputation, rumors are unlikely to reach more than a few of the thousands of graduate programs. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 '20 at 2:24
  • @AnonymousPhysicist so why do rumors spread so fast? The old saying “rumors travel faster than the speed of light” - as a physicist you should appreciate that. – Solar Mike Jul 19 '20 at 6:59
  • @SolarMike They spread fast to certain people. This answer presumes that an uninteresting rumor would spread to all departments. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 '20 at 7:28
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    Most of my colleagues have no idea what's happening a neighboring universities. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 '20 at 7:29
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I don't think I said it would spread to all departments in the world and prevent someone ever getting an offer from anywhere. I just suggest a mechanism by which this might hurt your admission chances at a different institution from the undergrad one. – avid Jul 19 '20 at 11:49

The short answer is, yes, an ongoing lawsuit has a significant chance of impacting your admissions.

Assuming that your letters of recommendation know about your on-going lawsuit, it will be in their best interest to at least mention this in the letters because it is those professors who must put their reputations on the line when they draft you that letter. But let's assume that your letter writers are oblivious and they do not know about your lawsuit and you keep it hidden from the admissions committee, then what happens?

If you omit the lawsuit against your current institution, and then your new institution finds out about it, you will have (in my perspective) lied by omission and the faculty's decision to admit you has been tainted by a lack of very critical information about you which could lead to your termination from the program. Imagine you have two students, exactly the same in every single way, except that one is pursuing legal charges against a university and the other is not, who do you think the admissions committee would give a spot to?

Consider the financial ramifications as well, can you successfully pursue a graduate degree if you lose the lawsuit and now have to pay for the lawyers of the university you are hoping to sue? Can you handle the time commitment that litigation might take, and given your previous posting history, can you successfully handle the stress that litigation would bring while you are trying to do your best in a stressful academic program? Keep in mind, you're going up against a university that can ultimately flip this back on you and sue you if they wanted to.

Your best path forward is to be upfront about the lawsuit in your Statement of Purpose/ Letter of Intent/ Letter of Interest. Hiding your on-going lawsuit is, in no way, an optimal strategy in the long term. To restate the answer to your question, because I think it bares repeating, yes, engaging in litigation against another academic institution can hurt your chances of admission into another institution.

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    While the OP can discuss ongoing litigation, nearly every google search result from law firms recommends against doing so. – Cardinal Jul 19 '20 at 1:13
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    You are correct, it is not related to the question but instead related to your answer suggesting the OP draw attention to the lawsuit in the statement of purpose/letter of intent. Do you have any sources suggesting that would be a wise decision when legal advice recommends the opposite? – Cardinal Jul 19 '20 at 1:20
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    Otherwise, your answer may be more in line with the experiences of others, particularly because the department chair is in the OP’s desired field. – Cardinal Jul 19 '20 at 1:26
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    @Cardinal I would be more inclined to say my response is based on experiences of others. However, I think OP has a coin-toss to make. Admitting the lawsuit early on could be seen as a giant red flag, however, if the graduate committee did find out about the lawsuit and reached out to OP's current institution, that could potentially lend itself to snowball into being kicked out of the new institution when the past events come to the surface. Tough situation to be in. – GrayLiterature Jul 19 '20 at 1:32
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    -1 It would be highly unprofessional to mention litigation in a letter of recommendation, unless the court found the person being recommended did something wrong. That is not the situation in the question. Further, not mentioning the litigation in the application is not a lie by omission, as there is no expectation to mention it. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 '20 at 2:22

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