PHOENIX (CN) - Fourteen students say Lamson College, a profit-seeking school in Tempe, defrauded them of thousands of dollars by claiming it had an accredited surgical tech program, that all its students who wanted an externship at a hospital received one, and through other misrepresentations. They also sued Lamson's corporate parent, Delta Career Education Corp.
The students say their initial 20- to 30-minute meeting with a Lamson representative "was more akin to a high-pressure sales pitch than an information session."
In their 48-page complaint in Maricopa County Court, the students say the sales reps made them sign an application, a statement of understanding and other documents, without fully summarizing them or allowing them time to read the fine print.
The students say the sales reps told them during meetings "that the student would take classes for 11 months, and would then immediately thereafter go into an externship at a local hospital or surgical center secured by Lamson; that all students who wanted them received scrub jobs, often at the site where they externed; that scrubs typically started at $15 to $26/hour; that Lamson's students received very high reviews from their externship providers; that most Lamson instructors were experienced surgical techs; that Lamson was accredited; that Lamson had won awards and received recognition for quality of education; that the job market for surgical techs was very promising; and that prospective students needed to enroll as soon as possible so as to secure a place in the highly-demanded classes that were filling up quickly."
But the "accreditation" that the sales reps bragged about "was not in fact accreditation by a surgical tech organization," the students say.
After telling them "that prospective students needed to enroll as soon as possible so as to secure a place in the highly-demanded classes that were filling up quickly," the students say, "most prospects were then taken immediately to the financial aid office and given additional paperwork to fill out. Prospective students were told the amount of their loans - usually around $24,000 - but were provided very little additional information as to the terms of the loan. Like the initial conversation, Lamson pushed the prospective students aggressively through the financial application."
The students say Lamson gave them "what its representatives called an entrance exam," but it had nothing to do with the surgical tech program, and was "an extremely easy, first-grade level test with single-digit math problems and simple vocabulary."
When classes began, students found that many teachers had little or no experience in surgical tech, and when the instructors were unable to answer questions, they often told students "that if it is important, they will learn it in the field," plaintiffs claim.
The students say the labs were equipped with broken and outdated equipment, including outdated sutures, a moldy mannequin that students had to clean, and "body parts made out of felt with beans inside that the teachers would sew back together between labs."
Students had to use contaminated rubber globes, and instead of teaching them with surgical mesh, Lamson provided rubber drawer liners, the students say.
Lamson provided them with used towels instead of sterile drapes, "and then asked the students to take them home and wash them because it was becoming too expensive for the school to pay to have them washed," the students say.
They add that they often had to find externships themselves, out of state, "because of Lamson's terrible reputation in Arizona."
They say the school "told prospective students that its externs were receiving excellent reviews from their supervisors," though "in reality, most of the feedback about Lamson's students was negative."
One plaintiff says that supervisors and an interviewer at Banner Health, Arizona's largest hospital chain, "informed her that she would not get the positions because she was a Lamson graduate. In fact, the interviewer at the Banner facility said Banner will no longer take any Lamson graduates. The Scottsdale Osborn interviewer, Jim Nash, specifically asked [the plaintiff] why she was applying for lower positions (instrument tech), to which [plaintiff] Hightree responded that she was doing so because of her Lamson affiliation. Nash responded that it was unfortunate for Hightree, but that Lamson's reputation was so poor that they simply could not accept her as an applicant."
To top it off, the students say, in March or April 2009, Lamson began offering a buyout to students from their loan agreement because of a "bottleneck of students awaiting externships."
The complaint states: "The buyouts were offered by calling the students one by one into a room and showing them a piece of paper containing four written options. Students could essentially choose between staying in the program and waiting for an externship, or taking money to pay off their loans, plus an additional $5,000 in some instances, no information was given as to the amount of externships that were available, or how long the student would likely have to wait for an externship.
"To accept the buyout, students had to agree that they would not receive any type of degree or recognition for their time and effort. In other words, students had to choose between 1) repayment of their loans, plus $5,000, for a year or more completely wasted with absolutely nothing to show in return, and 2) staying in the program in the hopes that they would one day find an externship and receive a degree from a school with a terrible reputation that had demonstrated an inability to prepare its students to work in the real world as surgical techs.
"Some students were told that they must decide on the buy-out immediately, while others were given only 24 to 48 hours.
"The students who chose to stay rather than take the buyout did so based upon representations by Lamson that its new head of administration, James Weaver, and his team had come on board to make improvements necessary to better the program and speed up the externship process. In reality, Lamson saw no improvement after Weaver's hiring, and the program shut down completely several months later."
The students seek reimbursement of their tuition and time lost while enrolled in Lamson's surgical tech program, and punitive damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and other charges.
They are represented by Steven Rensch of Mesa.
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