National / Crime & Legal

In lawsuit, consumer group alleges discrimination by Tokyo Medical University

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

A consumer advocacy group representing applicants who allege they have been subject to unfair admissions practices filed a lawsuit against Tokyo Medical University on Monday with the Tokyo District Court, the first legal action in a series of scandals embroiling Japanese medical schools.

A government probe has found similar misconduct at multiple institutions.

The nonprofit Consumers Organization of Japan is demanding that test fees and associated costs be paid back to affected applicants, including men who took the test multiple times and women. The group said it decided to take legal action after being frustrated by what it describes as the university’s slow response.

Yukitaka Sasaki, a lawyer and the group’s vice managing director, called the practice of offering the exams without explaining the process for score adjustment “illegal.”

“We believe the university has an obligation to pay damages such as the reimbursement of test fees,” Sasaki told a news conference at the Tokyo District Court on the day.

The lawsuit marks the latest development in an admissions scandal that has enveloped a number of medical schools. The education ministry said Friday that its investigation found a total of nine medical schools engaged in score manipulation based on the gender of applicants and nepotism. Cases of such misconduct were acknowledged by Nihon University and Juntendo University last week.

At Monday’s news conference, Akiko Shirai, one of three attorneys representing the consumer organization, said that such discriminatory practices against women cannot be condoned.

“Children filled with dreams are being denied of opportunities before they even enter society. I question whether it is appropriate to simply address the issue as a matter of moral responsibility. I think it’s wrong,” Shirai said. “There is law. Something illegal is illegal. I don’t want children to think they are helpless if they are discriminated against.”

The legal action also serves as an important moment in the nation’s judiciary, as it is the first case in which a certified consumer advocacy group has been able to sue on behalf of plaintiffs under a system that came into force in October 2016.

The lawyers said the system skips a burdensome legal process — like having to pay expensive legal fees — for the consumers affected, since the groups can file lawsuits for them. If a ruling in their favor is secured, they would be able to collect damages through mediation.

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