Counseling student files suit, alleges Webster dismissed him for lacking empathy


Read full text of Schwartz’s lawsuit against Webster University.

Former Webster University student David Schwartz has filed a lawsuit against Webster University, seeking up to $1 million in damages after the university dismissed him from the Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling degree program in March 2011.  Schwartz alleges he was dismissed because he was perceived to lack empathy and is asking for at least $2 million in punitive damages on four of the five counts in the lawsuit. The suit was filed Aug. 24 in St. Louis Circuit County Court.

According to Missouri, President Elizabeth Stroble was served the suit summons on Aug. 26.

Schwartz’s attorney Albert Watkins said in a news release Aug. 31 his client would hold a empathy workshop at the St. Louis Zoo on Sept. 1 in front of the vacant polar bear exhibit. Zoo officials wouldn’t allow Schwartz to hold his event “because these activities interfere with the zoo visitor experience.”

The suit claims because of Schwartz’s termination from the program he has “incurred significant losses in the form of delayed pursuit of education,” “delayed [his] ability to earn income” and  “incurred extensive attorneys’ fees, court costs, tuition, book expenses, study expenses, and related ancillary expenses.”

In the lawsuit, Schwartz contends he began to receive poor reviews after he wrote an anonymous letter to David Wilson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Stroble in Feb. 2011.  According to the suit, the letter referenced an affair Schwartz believed was taking place between one of his professors and program director involved in the MA in Counseling program. According to the suit, “Both individuals involved in the affair were directly involved with the Masters Program being pursued by the Plaintiff.” In the letter, Schwartz also criticized the poor quality of teaching in his practicum class, Techniques of Crisis Intervention.

The lawsuit states on March 3, Schwartz met with Stacy Henning, director of Counseling Worldwide, to discuss Schwartz’s practicum performance using three taped therapy sessions Schwartz had done with his wife’s friend.  The suit alleges Henning told Schwartz he lacked empathy in the tapes and would not make a good counselor.  Henning also told Schwartz he would be dismissed from the master’s program.  According to the lawsuit, Schwartz received a “No Credit” grade for the practicum and on March 14, received a letter terminating him from the program.

This is the third lawsuit served to Webster in 2011.  In January, David Garafola, the former chief financial officer of the university, sued the university, claiming he was unfairly forced to vacate the office.  And on Aug. 19, Associate Professor Tracy McCarthy served a lawsuit to Stroble, alleging discrimination based on her race, sex, and disability.

The suit alleges Webster did not provide academic support to Schwartz when it learned of his shortcomings as required by The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which is posted on the counseling department’s website.  The code of ethics requires counselor education programs to provide corrective aid to students.

Count 1: Negligent Misrepresentation

The lawsuit claims Henning failed to provide one-on-one counseling sessions or other support, which she offered through “representations” to Schwartz, “to assist [him] in improving his counseling skills.”  The lawsuit also claims Webster University misrepresented the purpose of the Counseling Advisory Committee (CAC) when, in a letter to Schwartz, the university said the CAC was in “unusual cases.”  The lawsuit claims no such requirement for CAC intervention is listed in the 2010 – 2011 Graduate Professional Counseling Degree Program Student Handbook and that CAC is open to all students in the program.

Count 2: Fraudulent Misrepresentation

The text of the lawsuit claims Henning told Schwartz she would provide one-on-one counseling and authorize additional training for Schwartz to improve his counseling skills.  However, the suit alleges, no such aids were provided, and Henning never intended to provide such aids.

Count 3:  Breach of Contract

The lawsuit alleges Schwartz and Webster University “entered into a binding contract between a student and an educational institution” when he paid tuition to Webster in return for educational services.  By dismissing Schwartz from the MA in Counseling program, the university has not “complied” with the terms and conditions of its contract.”  The lawsuit also claims Webster acted in bad faith by dismissing Schwartz when he held a 3.78 GPA and had paid tuition in full for the semester.  The suit claims Schwartz deserved an explanation for his dismissal.  It should be noted that this count is not asking for any reparations for damages.

Count 4:  Intentional Interference with Business Expectancy

The suit states Schwartz satisfied all requirements in the MA in Counseling program, both under the contract between Schwartz and Webster and within the student handbook.  The text of the lawsuit states because of Schwartz’s high academic achievement and Webster’s failure to follow the policies outlined in the student handbook, Webster had no grounds to dismiss Schwartz from the program.

Count 5:  Violation of Due Process 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983

The text of the lawsuit claims because of his dismissal by Webster University, Schwartz prospects of returning to a higher education institution to pursue a counseling degree and of securing a job within the counseling field have been “severely damaged.”  The suit also alleges Webster wronged Schwartz by failing to follow due process.

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  1. No matter what happens, I hope that students start demanding open communication from their professors. I hope that other students won’t be persecuted by Dr. Henning as they will evidently have to enforce tougher admission standards to prevent such people from being admitted.

  2. Let me get this straight. He applies and does well in most classes. He doesn’t feel safe to appeal a C, based on the relationships between certain faculty members in the department. Then, he has the program director’s boyfriend for Techniques of Crisis Intervention, and she is teaching practicum. In all this time, he hadn’t had faculty comments about his empathy? What were they doing instead of teaching and coaching students? Oh wait. He apparently drew attention to that activity. It’s hard to believe that somebody could go far so long in counseling without allegedly not displaying empathy, then be kicked out.

    It was the university’s position to have dismissed him before this mess started or to have coached him as promised.

    I hope he wins and that students in the program transfer elsewhere.

  3. Please tell me this lady didn’t get tenure. These actions look bad for Webster University and academia as a whole. Why would anyone want to go to their counseling program? From what I read, Webster used to be the place to be for a counseling program. How sad that it tanked.

  4. I wonder if they sensor comments about this story because there aren’t a lot here. It seems that they published the stories about the other suits. As for the suit itself, I find it sad that the counseling program apparently has the following problems: nepotism, squashing open concerns from students (he couldn’t raise issues about the Crisis Intervention teacher), no extensive screening of incoming students, no due process, and worst of all no empathy for its students. They are supposed to model empathy. What happened?

  5. Wow! I can hardly believe it! This issue made it all the way to a blog of the American Counseling Association and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

  6. I appreciate this student taking the initiative to bring this situation to light and expose these problems. It seems highly irresponsible to dismiss a student from an academic program based on a questionable, subjective assessment and without any clear process. I hope the university will take this as an opportunity to review and improve its procedures to ensure students are treated fairly in the future.

  7. I agree with RM. I am sure that Webster would like to dispose of this matter quickly and quietly. If you say that Schwartz should not have been admitted, they were negligent in their admissions policy. If you say he should not have sent the anonymous letter, look at their department and its nepotism as the reason why. If you wonder why it took so long for him to be dismissed and why he wouldn’t re-apply, think about the lack of due process. Would you simply walk away from the degree or would you seek out an attorney to find out if you have a strong case of discrimination? If he gets any more than his loan money and attorney fees, that would be shocking.

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