A group of former International Culinary Center students have filed a lawsuit against the culinary school, alleging the center engages in an "ongoing fraudulent scheme" to entice and retain students. A lawsuit filed earlier this week in the U.S. District Court of New York seeks "punitive damages against defendants in an amount sufficient to punish and set an example," alleging the ICC presented "false and misleading" facts to prospective students. Among them: That students could "walk straight into a top culinary job" upon graduation, that job placements could result in starting chef salaries of $60,000 per year, and crucially, that those two promises ensured that paying "$45,000 for a six month program... makes economic sense."
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs Larry Grabovan and Daniel Oglander both completed an ICC program in New York, and landed entry-level jobs — not the "top culinary jobs" promised by ICC — after graduation. Grabovan owes $40,000 to a family member; Oglander claims he graduated with $50,000 in student debt. According to the lawsuit, "Plaintiffs received an education that is effectively worthless to them and ended up, at best, with jobs they could have obtained without paying tens of thousands of dollars for ICC educations."
UPDATE 7/17: ICC has provided Eater with comment, saying "The claims of the lawsuit are baseless." Read their full statement below.
According to a tipster, ICC alumni were contacted by lawyers from both the Plaintiffs and ICC in early 2014, asking if they felt they were "misled" at all during the admissions process. Grabovan and Oglander provide testimony about ICC's "Admissions Interview/Sales Pitch" process, as well as examples from its marketing materials, to allege the school knowingly made false claims. The plaintiffs claim said deception tactics were ultimately "wrongful acts and omissions, and each of them, were knowingly, willfully, intentionally, maliciously, oppressively, and fraudulently undertaken with the express purpose and intention of defrauding plaintiffs."
This isn't the first lawsuit filed against a culinary school. In recent years, culinary schools in Portland, Oregon and Pasadena, California were sued by underemployed former students alleging similar fraud and deceptive advertising. (In the latter, Le Cordon Bleu settled with the plaintiff for $217, 000.) Unsurprisingly, the flurry of lawsuits have led chefs and industry professionals to debate the merits of culinary school.
The lawsuit, in full:
ICC Statement on the Lawsuit
ICC President Erik Murnighan tells Eater:
We are extremely proud of our school and what we have accomplished in the 30 years since it was founded. We are equally proud of our alumni and the quality of the education that we provide our students. The claims of the lawsuit are baseless and we expect to prove that in court. We fully stand behind our school and the success of our graduates.