Marlena Aldrich and Kristen Nolan filed a class action against The University of Phoenix Inc. in Jefferson County, Ky. court on Tuesday. They sued for wrongful termination and state labor law violations.
Aldrich and Nolan were military liaisons for the university’s Louisville, Ky. campus, according to the lawsuit. They claim they were asked to make “substantial misrepresentations” to meet recruitment goals and were fired when they did not meet their goals.
Misrepresentations made by recruiters to prospective students included saying credits will transfer when they will not, not disclosing the university’s allegedly inferior accreditation, and telling potential recruits that certain employers endorse the university when they actually do not, according to the complaint.
Aldrich and Nolan say the University of Phoenix required recruiters to engage in a sales technique called “poking the pain,” which involves playing to a potential student’s insecurities about career and financial concerns.
“In truth there is no guarantee, indeed no evidence, that the UP degree will result in a better job, better wages, or otherwise operate as a ‘fix’ for the prospective student’s income concerns,” the complaint states. “In fact the opposite is true … ‘gainful employment’ statistics reflect that a UP degree likely will have little or no impact, indeed perhaps a negative impact, on the student’s employability.”
The class action also alleges that recruiters were required “to gain access to military bases surreptitiously” through job fairs by claiming to have job openings for soldiers and veterans when they were really just recruiting students. One such job fair was held by the Hiring Our Heroes organization and another was sponsored by Wounded Warriors, according to the complaint.
“In spite of its express agreement that UP would not utilize its participation in the job fair to recruit students it required its liaisons such as plaintiffs to do just that. Plaintiffs were required to conduct these recruitment activities stealthily because if caught they risked removal from the base,” the lawsuit states. “Effectively liaisons such as plaintiffs were required to participate in these unlawful schemes, inclusive of schemes that rise to the level of criminal trespass, to meet recruitment goals or face termination.”
Aldrich and Nolan further claim that they worked more than 40 hours per week but were not paid overtime wages in violation of Kentucky law. Their hours were not recorded and they were not paid all wages due, the lawsuit states.
Mark Brenner, senior vice president of external affairs at Apollo Education Group Inc., the university’s parent company, called Aldrich and Nolan’s allegations fictitious and baseless.
“University of Phoenix intends to vigorously defend itself against the fictitious allegations of these former employees,” Brenner said in a statement provided to Courthouse News. “Their false accusations and baseless legal claims will not distract us from delivering a high quality, career relevant education for working adults, including all those who have so admirably served our country in the military.”
The lawsuit claims that University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest for-profit college. SEC filings from last year show that the university is facing investigations from attorney generals in Florida and Massachusetts.
Aldrich, Nolan and the class are represented by Kirk Hoskins in Louisville. They seek punitive damages, past due wages including overtime pay, civil penalties and class certification. The proposed class includes Kentucky employees of the University of Phoenix that currently work there or have within the last five years.
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