For-Profit School Blamed for Son’s Suicide | Courthouse News Service
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For-Profit School Blamed for Son’s Suicide

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A French business school dangles paid "management" internships at Hyatt hotels at students who end up as cheap labor in hotel kitchens, according to a mother who says her son committed suicide after a stint at a Hyatt in the California desert.

Pilar Casteran says the Vatel Business School partnered with the Hyatt to "profit from" and "exploit foreign students in the program," and "made misrepresentations to potential students," including her son, Fabrice Casteran, who took his own life in late 2010.

"Mr. Casteran had paid over $15,000 to take part in the Vatel MBA program, expected a chance to work in hotel management at a top Los Angeles hotel, enjoy the Southern California lifestyle with a paid internship to finance it all. Instead, Mr. Casteran found himself working in a humiliating dishwasher level position for an unforgiving boss three hours east of Los Angeles working long hours for low pay only to return to a Vatel-provided apartment where he was forced to sleep on the floor," according to the complaint in Superior Court.

Casteran says her son, a graduate of the Vatel school in France, was promised an MBA when he was recruited by Vatel L.A. in the fall of 2009.

But instead of the management internship he was promised, he toiled at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells - a 2½-hour commute from the apartment he shared with at least six other students on the West Side of Los Angeles, according to the complaint.

Pilar Casteran says that several students slept on the floor of the apartment or on an air mattress, paying $850 per month for the privilege. She claims the defendants knew of her son's "stress and complaints about the working conditions created by defendants yet failed to take steps that might have prevented Mr. Casteran's suicide on November 25, 2010."

"Vatel broke many of its promises to Mr. Casteran, and others," the complaint states. "Vatel's MBA program is not a true Masters in Business Administration. Vatel Los Angeles only graduated its first class in September 2009, just months before Fabrice enrolled in the school. It does not appear that Vatel Los Angeles is accredited by any reputable accreditation association or any unaffiliated entity. Although Vatel claims 'accreditation' by Eurhodip, a European association which awards hotel and tourism degrees, Eurhodip was created by Vatel's founder, Alain Sebban. The Board of Eurhodip is made up of several executives of the Vatel defendants. Vatel did not disclose its close relationship with the accrediting association to students ...

"Parenthetically, the Vatel defendants' pattern of conduct - in which the Vatel defendants are alleged to have engaged in deceptive and fraudulent statements regarding the school's accreditation, prospective employment and the structure of the MBA program itself - is similar to conduct which was the subject of public hearings conducted by the United States Senate Committee on Health, Labor & Pensions ('HELP Committee') in 2010 and 2011 in an effort to address alleged patterns of misconduct by for-profit colleges, such as Vatel LA.

"An August 4, 2010 report discussed at the hearings revealed that, in an undercover investigation of 15 for-profit colleges, all 15 schools engaged in 'fraud, deceptive practices or made misleading statements' to prospective students. At the hearing, the Managing Director of the Government Accountability Office's Office of Forensic Audits and Special Investigations testified that the for-profit college industry is like 'the wild west' where it 'was difficult to sift through fact from fiction.' ... The GAO's findings of misconduct in the same industry in which the Vatel defendants operate are extensive and very similar to the conduct of the Vatel defendants described herein."

Pilar Casteran says her son was "a happy, well balanced man before the Vatel Los Angeles experience," during which he "became immediately and seriously depressed." She says he killed himself while "traveling alone" in Las Vegas on November 25, 2010.

Pilar Casteran seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and unfair business practices.

She is represented by Patricio Barrera of Manhattan Beach.

Named as defendants are Hospitality Education USA, Vatel Los Angeles, Institut Vatel, Hyatt Corp., and Hyatt Grand Champions Resort.

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