A proposed class action alleges the operators of Brightwood College intentionally misled students and staff about how long the school would remain open and effectively robbed them of degrees and tuition money.
Another proposed class action has been filed against embattled Education Corporation of America (ECA), this time alleging the college chain’s decision to abruptly close Brightwood College “betrayed thousands of students and teachers.”
Filed in Texas against Virginia College, LLC (which does business as Brightwood College), ECA, the equity firm that owns ECA, ECA’s CEO, and a president of one of Brightwood’s locations, the lawsuit centers around the defendants’ allegedly false representations regarding how long ECA’s schools nationwide would remain open. According to the complaint, ECA announced in the fall of 2018 that it planned to close a third of its schools – 26 campuses, specifically – by early 2020. Students were assured by the defendants, the case continues, that “the majority of currently enrolled students will have the opportunity to complete their course work and earn their certificates/diplomas or degrees as planned.”
In early December, however, the defendants, the suit alleges, changed their tune and shocked students and teachers by revealing “with extreme regret” that Brightwood would close later that month. “If you do not graduate this month, we encourage you to continue your career training by requesting your transcript and contacting local schools to determine transferability,” the school’s president reportedly noted in a letter sent to students.
The three named plaintiffs in the case, students who were on track to complete a nine-month medical assistant program, argue that they were “stripped of their opportunity” to complete the program despite earlier representations that they would be able to graduate in time before the campus closures. Even worse, the students claim the defendants refused to refund the thousands of dollars they paid in tuition after assuring them in the fall that they would receive a full refund should their campus close before their respective graduation dates.
The case includes allegations from an unnamed plaintiff, a former Brightwood employee referred to in the complaint as “Plaintiff X,” who argues that the college’s staff, like students, were similarly deceived. Echoing previous lawsuits that allege violations of the Worker Adjustment and Notification (WARN) Act, the pseudonymous plaintiff claims the defendants failed to provide statutory 60 days’ advance notice of the mass layoff resulting from the school’s closure.
All told, the lawsuit, which throws in alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, argues that the defendants intentionally lied to students and staff regarding the schools’ closure dates in an attempt to influence their financial decisions and pocket their tuition money. From the complaint:
“Defendants’ conduct demonstrates that their denial of tuition refund was prompted not by honest mistake, bad judgment or negligence, but rather by conscious and deliberate conduct which unfairly frustrated the agreed common purposes and disappointed the reasonable expectations of consumers/students such as Plaintiffs and the Proposed Class Members thereby depriving Plaintiffs and the Proposed Class Members of the benefits of their course and/or program they purchased in reliance on Defendants’ representations, advertisements, and marketing.”