U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos could potentially face jail time for her ongoing refusal to comply with a federal judge’s court orders in a 2018 student loan case, Bloomberg reports.
In 2017, DeVos stopped processing Borrower Defense to Repayment applications, a program created during the Obama Administration to “allow federal student loan borrowers to request loan forgiveness on the basis that their school engaged in unfair, deceptive, or illegal practices,” Forbes reports. This, for all intents and purposes, ended the program.
Consumer advocates filed suit against DeVos and the Education Department—and won. Subsequently, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim ordered DeVos and the Department to cease collections and activities on federal student loans from Corinthian Colleges, a collapsing for-profit college chain, because students would likely be eligible for the Borrower Defense to Repayment program.
DeVos did not comply, going so far as to garnish people’s wages and take their federal tax refunds with flagrant disregard of the judge’s order. Consumer advocates, again, took DeVos to court.
Judge Kim said that she was “astounded” by DeVos’ actions, telling Department of Education lawyers at a hearing Monday in San Francisco, “At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order.”
Pondering the best way to hold DeVos accountable for her actions, Kim continued, “I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions. I’m not sending anyone to jail, yet; but it’s good to know I have that ability.”
Eileen Connor, legal director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University, represents a group of former Corinthian students that sued the Education Department and DeVos over claims it had ceased granting the loan discharges, Bloomberg reports. The case was brought as a class action on behalf of about 80,000 students.
According to Connor, “We think contempt is clear on the record presently before the court, and expect that the court will issue that finding, regardless of what sanctions are imposed.”