(CN) – The companies that run a for-profit culinary college in California run the school like a used-car lot, preying on vulnerable students who dream of becoming celebrity chefs, saddling them with loans they cannot pay back, and working the admissions staff to the bone, 21 recruiters claim in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“In particular, Robert Woy pressured admissions representatives to the point of telling them that, ‘as long as they have a pulse, enroll them,'” the recruiters say, referring to the vice president of admissions and marketing at the California School of Culinary Arts.
The school, which also goes by Le Cordon Bleu, is the subject of numerous class actions by students who say their enrollment was fraudulently solicited with misleading claims.
A new lawsuit from 21 recruiters, all Los Angeles residents, provides a frenzied glimpse into the atmosphere surrounding these claims.
Recruiters say they were not allowed to go to the bathroom or even move their chair. “The effects of this unrelenting pressure caused admissions representatives to break down and cry on a frequent basis,” according to the complaint.
Le Cordon Bleu allegedly requires recruiters to make 120 outbound sales calls every day, schedule at least six appointments with prospective students every day, convert at least 12 percent of Internet leads into prospective-student appointments, enroll four new students a week, generate 12 personal referrals every month, and perform several other duties.
In addition to an hourly wage, the school also promised various incentives, including $400 bonuses for every graduation of a student they had enrolled, according to the complaint.
It is impossible to meet these quotas in a typical eight-hour work day, so the school encouraged recruiters to work off the clock and not clock out for lunch, according to the complaint.
“From the moment they were hired, plaintiffs, and other admissions representatives, were thrust into a high-pressure sales environment,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs, and other admissions representatives, found themselves pressured into subordinating any alleged goal of providing a quality educational opportunity for new students/enrollees for the corporate bottom-line of pushing and packing as many new students/enrollees into the defendants’ culinary and hospitality industry education and financial aid programs as possible. Plaintiffs, and other admissions representatives, immediately learned that they were by no means to consider themselves as trying to counsel perspective (sic) new students/enrollees into making informed, realistic choices about what defendants’ programs had to offer, or finding and enrolling students who would truly benefit from the program. Instead, plaintiffs were directed by defendants to function like used car salesman with one goal and one goal only, make a sale. Plaintiffs, and other admissions representatives, were directed by defendants to meet their new student enrollee numbers, without any regard for whether these new students/enrollees would ever be able to either find employment, or pay back the loans and financial assistance that the new students/enrollees undertook.”
In the time since Since Career Education Corp. acquired the the school, the number of new students to enroll and take out financial aid has quadrupled, according to the complaint.
Admissions executives with the school would routinely threaten to fire any recruiter who did not make or exceed their quotas, they claim.
Woy, the vice president, and admissions senior director Marie Guerrero were the principal offenders, and each “received ‘huge’ bonuses based on the number of enrolled students,” according to the complaint.
“Plaintiffs were encouraged, directed and compelled by management to adhere to the CEC [Career Education] script even if that meant misleading students by promising rewarding high-paying jobs, careers, and celebrity status,” the complaint states.
They were further encouraged “to prey on perspective (sic) students’ dreams of becoming celebrity chefs, and to gloss over and completely ignore the painful economic realities of the industry,” it adds.
“Every perspective (sic) new student/enrollee was to be promised anything, including being virtually guaranteed a well-paying job at an elite restaurant, and then pressured into enrolling and applying for financial assistance, even if that individual clearly expressed that they did not want to enroll, or could not pay back the financial assistance that they were obligating themselves for,” the complaint also states.
To make sure the students qualified for aid, the recruiters say Woy and Guerrero encouraged them to falsify the students’ information and “front” the $75 application processing fee.
Aside from fronting that $75 themselves, the recruiters say they also urged prosepective students to call family members for a loan or take their jewelry to “the local pawn shop,” all at the administration’s behest.
All prospective students need to pass a 12-minuted entrance test to qualify, but the school let students have as many retakes as possible until they passed, the recruiters say. If the students still failed, the recruiters said they could make them qualify by saying the students had a disability. The school also allegedly urged recruiters to falsify that applicants had completed high school or received a GED.
The 40-page complaint alleges failure to pay overtime, labor violations, fraud, breach of contract, intent to evade taxes and other charges against Career Education, Southern California School of Culinary Arts aka Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Los Angeles, Le Cordon Bleu, Woy and Guerrero.
Pasadena-based attorney Brian Claypool represents the plaintiffs.