MANHATTAN (CN) - The International Culinary Center, formerly known as the French Culinary Institute, conned students into forking over $45,000 with false promises that they'd become chefs and sidestep low-paying entry-level cooking slots in kitchens, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiffs Larry Grabovan and Daniel Oglander claim they paid the tuition only to land jobs that paid between $9 and $12 an hour "that they could get without any experience or education whatsoever."
Students such as Grabovan and Oglander pay the enormous tuition "because defendants lie to them," according to the lawsuit. "Defendants represent, and have represented, that paying more than $45,000 for a six month program (nine months for night and weekend courses) makes economic sense because, upon graduation, they could would be immediately eligible for and attain chef or other 'top culinary jobs' that pay $60,000 and upwards - and that would otherwise take them years to reach, absent defendants' expertise, prestige and industry connections.
"This is not hyperbole," the plaintiffs say. They say that they and other class members "paid tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to attend ICC because of defendants' false promises. They relied upon defendants' own website that promised prospective students that they could 'walk straight into a top culinary' job once they graduated."
The lawsuit continues: "Being a chef is hard work, but becoming a chef is even harder. The recipe for success usually requires years of dedication and arduous work, at low pay, before kitchen staff employees are given the opportunity to rise up through the ranks. And, even with tons of discipline and all the right skills, there is usually no guarantee that no one will attain such a high-level position."
The defendants promised plaintiffs that paying the tuition and attending the school would get them more than just a good schooling; it would also get them the prestige of a "French Culinary Institute"-type diploma "that would allow graduates to skip the years of peeling carrots and to attain chef positions or other 'top culinary jobs' immediately upon graduation," the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs say defendants' use of words such as "chefs" and "top culinary jobs" lured them into signing up.
"Put simply, defendants, promised that investing in an ICC education made economic sense, notwithstanding the high price tag," according to the complaint.
The cooking school "aggressively marketed this vision" to target students, though the school had no reasonable ground to believe that such assertions were true, and provided "outright lies, all of which were designed to create, in the minds of plaintiffs, the strong impression they would be both professionally and financially better off if they attended" the cooking school, the lawsuit states.
"Unfortunately, defendants' promises turned out to be half-baked," according to the complaint.
Instead, the cooking school's students only got a "worthless' education, and now are saddled with student loans they cannot repay, the lawsuit states.
Defendant Dorothy Hamilton founded the school in 1984 as the "French Culinary Institute." The cooking school rebranded itself in 2011 when the U.S Department of Education indicated that that it would deem it "financially irresponsible," according to the 36-page lawsuit.
Plaintiffs want their tuition back, plus damages for violation of state business laws.
They are represented by Russell Yaukwitt.