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MIT being sued for 2009 suicide

A wrongful death lawsuit filed against MIT by the family of the late Sloan doctoral student, Han Duy Nguyen, advanced toward a possible trial last month when a Middlesex Superior Court judge denied MIT’s request to dismiss the suit on the basis of a technicality. The claim, filed in 2011, alleged that Institute officials were negligent with regard to his mental health before his suicide in 2009.

In June of that year, Nguyen sent a “potentially offensive” email to a faculty member who was considering taking him on as a research assistant, according to The Boston Globe. Birger Wernerfelt and Drazen Prelec, two of Nguyen’s professors who had recommended him for the position and were among a few who had concerns about his well-being, agreed to confront him. Wernerfelt called Nguyen and chastised him angrily for his behavior. A few minutes later, Nguyen jumped off Building E19 and fell six stories to his death.

MIT, the two professors, and an associate dean, who were all listed as defendants in the lawsuit, have denied culpability. To limit its liability, MIT attempted to dismiss the claim by arguing that Nguyen should be classified as an employee, but his family’s attorney pointed out that MIT and other schools have maintained that graduate students are not employees in order to avoid unionization.

—Sanjana Srivastava