It's been a long road in the dispute between the parent companies of Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and the students who filed a class-action suit against the culinary school, alleging fraud. According to the claim, LCB used inflated job statistics to mislead prospective students into thinking they would secure jobs after graduation. Nearly three years later, after we reported about the lawsuit, the first lawsuit against the school settled out-of-court through arbitration.
According to Michael Louis Kelly, a senior partner at Kirtland & Packard LLP, the firm that's representing the students, former student Anna Berkowitz and her father, Martin Berkowitz, were awarded $217,000 in their claim against the California School of Culinary Arts (the former name of Le Cordon Bleu) and its Illinois-based parent company, Career Education Corporation.
Among their claims against the CSCA and CEC, the father-daughter duo sought reparations for having been led to believe that Anna Berkowitz would "earn at least $75,000 per year to start" and that she'd "easily pay off the loans they were encouraged to take out" upon her completion of the pastry chef program.
In October 2010, Jeff Leshay, then senior vice president of corporate communications and public relations at CEC, told Squid Ink that the lawsuit "has no merit and the claims are ill-founded." In February 2011, Kelly told us that Kirtland & Packland had included as defendants in the suit Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, Dollar Bank of Pittsburgh and several other loan holders. At the time, the firm was looking into individual claims as a backup plan as well.
Meanwhile, LCB was making big changes to its programs. By July 2011 the school had removed the associate's degree requirement, offering a 12-month culinary certificate program as an option. A month later, LCB stopped enrolling international students in its certificate program.
The suit against LCB added to accusations lobbed at CEC. In June 2007, SF Weekly found a "pattern of serious complaints" among two dozen applicants, then current students, and graduates of CEC-owned California Culinary Academy. Three years later, the S.F.-based institution settled with plaintiffs over claims of misrepresentation to the figure of $40 million.
Le Cordon Bleu has issued a statement through spokesman Mark Spencer, stating its intent to challenge the private arbitrator's award. For one thing, according to Spencer, "the vast majority of the award ($150,000) was given to the claimants' attorneys, even though such fees are not permitted under the applicable law." Furthermore, the school firmly believes it has "never misrepresented potential career outcomes to our students." Berkowitz and her father, the school contends, had signed "multiple documents affirming that no representations of any kind were made to her regarding salaries or job outcomes."
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