Law Schools

Saying 'Labels Matter,' Judge Permits Law School Alumni Suit Over Job Stats

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A judge has denied Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s motion for summary judgment against the lead plaintiff in a class action suit by four graduates who say they were tricked into attending the school by misleading post-graduate job statistics.

The judge, in a final order (PDF) Thursday, also overruled the law school’s demurrer to the plaintiffs’ fourth amended complaint, the California equivalent of a motion to dismiss.

In its motion for summary judgment, the school had argued that all of lead plaintiff Anna Alaburda’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. It also argued that Alaburda had not established that she was injured because she was offered a full-time job as a lawyer making $60,000 a year within nine months of graduation.

But San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel M. Pressman rejected both of those arguments. He said there was insufficient evidence that Alaburda knew about the school’s alleged misleading job statistics until she read a New York Times article about law schools manipulating employment data (that mentioned Thomas Jefferson) in the New York Times in 2011.

In response to the school’s second argument, Pressman said that Alaburda wasn’t bargaining for a job, but for a legal education, and that representations regarding that legal education are material to the decision to enroll.

He cited a case involving the purchasers of a lock set who claimed they had been deceived by the lock-maker’s misrepresentations that they had been manufactured in the U.S.

“Simply stated, labels matter,” Pressman wrote. “Labels on locksets and ‘labels’ on higher education. Consumers’ rights to make informed, educated decisions when determining an education investment depends upon transparency and accurate information. To the extent that misrepresentations are made, consumers are injured by enrolling in an institution that is not what it purported to be.”

Brian Procel, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, called the decision a landmark ruling. “This is the first time that a court has held that misrepresentations regarding law school employment data are a violation of the law,” he said.

Procel also said the plaintiffs are “looking forward to telling their story to a jury how they were misled by Thomas Jefferson’s employment data.”

In a prepared statement (PDF), the school said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, which it said was not a “factual determination that plaintiffs’ allegations have merit … [but] simply allows the plaintiffs to proceed with discovery.”

The school also insisted that it has always provided accurate employment statistics in the manner and format required by the National Association for Law Placement and the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

“If a trial is someday necessary, TJSL is confident that a judge or jury will find that TJSL accurately reported its post-graduate employment statistics,” it said.

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