Can I Sue Residential Education and Job Training Programs?
If you faced discrimination in an education program, or the school made false or misleading promises to you about the training you'd receive, you may have a case against the company or people responsible for the program.
Residential educational institutions can include boarding and college-prep schools, where you live and learn within the same school system. On the other hand, job training programs don't necessarily have to be in a residential setting. Vocational schools, also known as a trade schools or technical schools, are private education agencies that offer skills training for particular jobs. However, some apprenticeship programs can certainly offer job training as part of a residential education curriculum.
For example, unlike a public school or community college, a full-time private school may provide room and board to high school students to prepare them for higher education while also providing them with opportunities to become plumbers, electricians, or computer technicians. If a school like this denied you enrollment or otherwise caused you to fall victim to discrimination, harassment, or fraud, you should consider consultations with civil rights lawyers and consumer protection attorneys.
Federal law, which applies to private and public schools alike, prohibits schools from discriminating against their students and their employees. States have also enacted their own anti-discrimination laws to prevent unfair treatment.
Established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can investigate discrimination complaints relating to:
- Race, religion, color, national origin,
- Sex, gender, and orientation
- Age, disability, and pregnancy
Similarly, the federal government's Department of Education (as well as board of education bodies created under your local state laws) can enforce students' civil rights against unlawful discrimination, including:
- Disability discrimination,
- Gender identity and sex discrimination, and
- Race and national origin discrimination.
For example, if a school fails to provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled student during testing, or turns them down from enrollment on the basis of race, they may have a claim for unlawful discrimination. You may be able to sue in state court as well as federal district court because discrimination also involves violations of your constitutional rights to equal protection under federal law.
Similarly, if you were a job applicant or employee of a residential education or job training program and faced a prejudiced hiring selection or work environment, you may have an employment discrimination case. In these cases, the EEOC requires that you would first file a discrimination charge prior to suing. You will then receive a Notice of Right to Sue, which will give you just 90 days to file your lawsuit. A Notice of Right to Sue is not necessary for employment claims relating to:
- Age discrimination lawsuits (ADEA)
- Equal pay lawsuits (EPA)
False Advertising and Fraud Lawsuits
One of the leading causes of the student loan crisis is shifty educational programs that promise big returns to students who take on giant loans to fund their schooling. Some trade schools encourage their students to get large amounts of financial assistance, including federal funds, to pay for classes that promise them good jobs in the future.
Unfortunately, it's all too common to hear allegations that a private for-profit job training school has ripped off its students. Some students have alleged that they were duped into paying large sums of money for worthless degrees that make it almost impossible for them to find work after graduation. Some examples of controversies in the news include:
- Corinthian Colleges
- ITT Technical Institute
- Education Corporation of America
- The University of Phoenix
If you feel like your education or job training program lied to you, there are many different kinds of lawsuits that you may be able to bring against them in court. Two common claims are:
False Advertising — False advertising claims under state law can vary, but the elements of a claim are generally similar to those under federal law. They require a showing that:
- A school made false or misleading statements about its services;
- The deception affected a large percentage of students who were the intended audience;
- The deception was material in influencing the students to pay for the school;
- The advertising or schooling was provided across various states; and
- There was a likelihood of financial harm to the students of the school (even if they didn't suffer any harm).
Fraud —Fraud claims can vary depending on state law as well, but in general, they involve:
- A promise or statement by the school which is false;
- The school intends on deceiving students using the statement;
- The students reasonably relied on the statement; and
- The students suffered financial injury as a result of relying on it.
False advertising and fraud claims may also be part of a breach of contract lawsuit. In a breach of contract case, you have to show that the school:
- Had a valid contract with you (which may have been oral, written, implied, or express),
- They failed to perform their obligations under the contract, while you performed your obligations, and
- You suffered harm as a result of the school's behavior.
It might be helpful to put this all together in an example that helps you understand how the law works in practice.
Let's say a school offers an educational program to students who want to learn how to become plumbers. The board of directors of the school gets together and plots a scheme to make as much money as possible: the school starts advertising that it's worth it to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt because its courses will help you become a millionaire plumber. Sure enough, the school starts raking in millions of dollars as more and more students sign up for the plumbing courses.
In reality, it turns out the courses offered by the school are so bad that no employer recognizes the degrees that the school gives out to its graduating students. Even worse, it turns out that a lot of the students that went to this school relied on the advertisements and believed that at worst, they'd be able to find decent-paying jobs to help them raise their families and pay back their huge student loans.
In this case, the students may be able to sue the school for false advertising and fraud. If, for example, it turns out that the school was also limiting its enrollment only to people of a certain religion or race, the students affected by the discrimination may be able to sue the school for violating their civil rights as well.
When you sue an educational institution, you can ask the court for relief to make you whole. Below is a list of common remedies:
Injunctive Relief — An injunction is an order from a court compelling someone to stop doing something. For example, through an injunction, a court may be able to force a school to stop its discriminatory behavior by ending its prejudicial enrollment practices.
Compensatory Damages — This includes everything from lost wages to lost work opportunities. You may also ask to be compensated for the money that you spent on your education based on the school's false promises.
Attorney's Fees and Legal Costs — In some cases, after winning your lawsuit a judge may order the defendant to pay for your attorney's fees as well as court filing fees and other expenses related to your lawsuit.
Punitive Damages — If you can show that a residential education or job training program intentionally deceived you, a court may award you extra damages to punish the wrongdoers and deter others from engaging in similar misconduct.
Contact an Attorney Today
Although the government might decide to criminally prosecute a deceptive school, chances are more likely that you would need to enforce your rights on your own. This is why having your own lawyer is very important:
- A civil rights lawyer can help you recover damages for discrimination and harassment that you may have suffered while attending a residential education and/or job training program.
- A consumer protection attorney can help you sue a school that made false or misleading promises to you about your job prospects after attending their technical training programs.
- An employment lawyer may also be helpful when you're dealing with discrimination or harassment in the workplace, including as an employee of a residential education or job training program.