Woman sues college over roommate’s sexual activity

March 7, 2012

Couple in bedIf you read enough lawsuits, you’re bound to come across one that leaves you scratching your head.

Lindsay Blankmeyer filed such a lawsuit at the end of February (you can read the full complaint here).

The claim?

That her roommate’s sex life exacerbated Blankmeyer’s depression and that the school, Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, didn’t do enough to help her.

Admittedly, it wasn’t just that Blankmeyer’s roommate, Laura Sidla, was sexually active, but was, allegedly, having sex regularly with her boyfriend while Blankmeyer was in the room (apparently, there was also some sexually explicit Skyping).

Blankmeyer complained of this to school officials (though the complaint is silent as to whether Blankmeyer ever attempted to talk to Sidla about her concerns), which eventually led to a session of group mediation between the residence director and the two roommates.

According to the complaint, the evening before the group mediation, “Laura grabbed Lindsay while she was sleeping and began shaking her and yelling at her.”

Despite this incident, both roommates attended the group mediation the next day, at which the complaint claims Sidla’s behavior was “completely downplayed” (though at this point, Blankmeyer never mentioned the physical assault to anyone).

Instead, the resident director asked that Sidla provide advance notice to Blankmeyer in the event that she was having a guest, that when Blankmeyer is in the room first Sidla should video chat in the common area, and that Blankmeyer should do a better job of communicating her feelings to Sidla.

The nerve.

Blankmeyer was understandably upset with the outcome of the mediation.

But rather than registering that discontent with another human being, she simply just left campus and checked into a hotel for the night “without informing anyone.”

At this point, her parents got involved (not having heard from Blankmeyer that night, her parents contacted the campus police).

From here on is where most of the alleged wrongs on Stonehill’s part occur.

The complaint claims that the school acted in violation of the federal Fair Housing and Rehabilitation Acts, and the Massachusetts Discrimination Law by refusing Blankmeyer’s requests for “reasonable accommodations.”

Although there are quite a few other minor legal hurdles for Blankmeyer to overcome to succeed in this action, her biggest problem is going to be trying to convince any half-decent judge that what she was asking of the school was “reasonable.”

First, what accommodations did Stonehill offer?

Blankmeyer could either move in with another girl in the “Commonwealth Court” dorm, which was supposedly known as a “party dorm,” or she could move to another dorm called “The Courts” where she would have to live in a room that was previously being used as a study lounge.

Blankmeyer refused both, and instead opted to move off campus to a hotel (the complaint commits significant space to describing the horrifying details of the experience).

What accommodations did Blankmeyer demand?

For either Sidla to be evicted from the room, or for Blankmeyer to be moved to a single dorm room of her own.

Were Blankmeyer’s demanded accommodations actually “reasonable?”

Though the legal analysis of “reasonable” is pretty fact- and case-specific, there is almost always some kind of balancing test – between the accommodation’s functional and administrative aspects and its costs.

Allowing Blankmeyer to have her own room simply because she was disturbed by her roommate’s behavior would set a dangerous precedent.

Students would start demanding their own rooms left and right, citing any variety of factors related to their depression or anxiety.

And evicting Sidla would be just as untenable, opening the floodgates for students who don’t like a roommate’s habit to demand that he or she be evicted.

Considering how many roommate conflicts occur in college, this would represent a very substantial administrative cost to Stonehill.

I could go on and on about how Blankmeyer’s demands weren’t reasonable, but I’m sure you get the idea.

With Blankmeyer’s graduation in September 2011, I have to question the wisdom of this lawsuit.

The lawsuit seems to suggest that Blankmeyer expects her college (and potential employers) to bend over backwards to accommodate her concerns that may very well be completely unreasonable.

I can’t really see an employer being thrilled to hire or retain such an employee.