PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) — Stanford University’s star athlete, Katie Meyer, was found dead inside her dorm room the morning after the university threatened her with expulsion, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed last week and obtained by KRON4.

A coroner ruled Meyer’s death a suicide after she was found dead on March 1. The night before, on February 28, she received a distressing email from Stanford’s Office of Community Standards informing Meyer that she was facing a formal disciplinary charge, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf Meyer’s parents in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The charge stemmed from an incident in which Meyer poured coffee on a football player after he kissed one of Meyer’s soccer teammates without consent, the suit states.

Meyer, 22, was a “perfectionist,” captain of the women’s soccer team, held a 3.84 GPA, and was just a few months shy from graduating, according to the suit. “Being a student, and soon-to-be graduate, of Stanford University meant the world to Katie,” attorneys wrote.

Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer acknowledges the crowd after the team’s 4-1 win over UCLA in a semifinal of the NCAA Division I women’s soccer tournament in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 6, 2019. (Ray Chavez /Bay Area News Group via AP, File)

The prestigious university’s office ordered Meyer to appear for a disciplinary hearing to potentially face “removal from the university,” attorneys with Justice Law Collaborative wrote.

According to Gina and Steven Meyer, their daughter had “an acute stress reaction that impulsively led her” to die by suicide, attorneys wrote. “The actions that led to the death of Katie Meyer began and ended with Stanford University.”

The young athlete’s sudden death sent shockwaves of grief through Stanford’s campus and the sport of soccer nationwide.

Stanford University officials called the lawsuit’s allegations “false and misleading.”

“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. However, we strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death,” Stanford officials wrote in a statement.

The statement continued, “Stanford’s Office of Community Standards (OCS) received a complaint regarding alleged behavior by Katie that resulted in physical injury, and as is the practice of the office, it launched a review of that allegation.  After extensive factfinding and the opportunity for both sides to provide information, it was found that the high threshold was met for the matter to proceed to a hearing. However, it is important to emphasize that we are committed to supporting students through the student judicial process under OCS, and we did so in this case. In particular, the university offered Katie an advisor to work with her throughout the process and told her she could have a support person of her choosing with her in any meeting or conversation with OCS. The allegation that OCS did not communicate with Katie prior to February 28 is also incorrect. Several days earlier, the head of OCS had informed Katie that a decision would be made by February 28 whether to proceed to a hearing.”

Katie Meyer
Katie Meyer (Photo courtesy Stanford Athletics)

The unnamed football player never wanted the school to take disciplinary actions against Katie Meyer, and he did not file a complaint with the OCS. Instead, Dean of Residential Education Lisa Caldera filed the complaint, according to the lawsuit.

The letter that Katie Meyer received on the evening of her death was sent by Assistant Dean Tiffany Gabrielson, and contained threatening language regarding sanctions, the suit claims.

The coffee-spilling incident happened on Aug. 28, 2021, but a formal charge letter was not sent until the evening of Feb. 28, 2022.

Katie Meyer immediately responded to the email expressing how “shocked and distraught” she was over being charged. That evening, she was sitting alone in her dorm room and feeling terrified that her future would be destroyed, the lawsuit claims.

Earlier that same day, Katie Meyer was happily making plans for spring break and booking plane tickets, attorneys wrote. She attended classes, went to soccer practice, met up with friends, and FaceTimed with her mother and sister.

“Everyone she interacted with has advised she was well, in good spirits and the usual Katie,” the lawsuit states. Her death “was completed without planning and solely in response to the shocking and deeply distressing information she received from Stanford while alone.”

Katie Meyer was a fiercely competitive and passionate student-athlete. She led her team to an NCAA women’s soccer championship in 2019.

Stanford University “used” Katie Meyer as the face of its outstanding athletic teams, yet failed to support her mental well-being, legal expert Paula Canny told KRON4.

The lawsuit is an “indictment on Stanford’s disciplinary system,” Canny said. “It sure sounds like they did do something wrong.”

The Meyer family said they are seeking justice. The family’s statement read, “Katie Meyer absolutely loved being a student-athlete at Stanford University. We are deeply troubled and disappointed with what we have learned since her passing and have no choice but to move forward with litigation to achieve justice for Katie and protect future students. In addition, we are working to seek systemic changes to improve the safety and support of the Stanford students currently on campus, and those enrolled in the future through our foundation, Katie’s Save.”

Stanford alumni who founded the Student Justice Project criticized the university for denying responsibility in connection to Meyer’s death.

“Katie Meyer was a beloved member of our community,” said alum Bob Ottilie. “It is unfair for Stanford to suggest she bears sole responsibility for her death; Stanford has to candidly assess the role they played here.”

The Student Justice Project, founded by five Stanford alumni in 2012, conducted case studies in 2012 and 2013 that found the university’s disciplinary process was “extreme.”

“Our extensive investigation from a decade ago indisputably demonstrated that Stanford University used draconian tactics to negatively impact the lives of its own students,” Ottilie said.

Ottilie has represented students accused of misconduct by the university in dozens of cases. He said Katie Meyer’s matter “would have been the least significant student disciplinary issue I had ever addressed at a college or university. It does not appear to have been a big deal at all,” Ottilie said of the charge against Katie Meyer.

If you or someone you know may need suicide prevention support, you can contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, by calling 800-273-8255. To learn more about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline click here.

The County of Santa Clara offers free and confidential counseling services from highly trained phone counselors 24 hours a day, every day, to anyone in crisis. Residents who may need support, resources, or information can call 855-278-4204 or contact the Crisis Text Line: Text RENEW to 741741.