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Buyer Beware! Law School Defeats Lawsuit Alleging Misrepresentation of Alumni Employment Data

Laptop_iStock_000004929105MediumBy Christina Avedissian 

In May 2011, Anna Alaburda filed a class action lawsuit against her alma mater, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (“TJSL”).  Ms. Alaburda alleged that despite graduating in 2008 near the top of her class and passing the bar exam on her first try, she was unable to find full-time employment as an attorney.  She claimed that TJSL misled potential students by inflating the post-graduate employment statistics it reported to U.S. News and World Report, the nation’s leading publication for law school rankings.  In particular, Ms. Alaburda alleged that when deciding to enroll at TJSL, she relied on a representation in the 2003 edition of U.S. News indicating that 80.1% of TJSL students were employed nine months after graduation. 

In October 2013, the San Diego County Superior Court judge denied class certification, holding that there was no reliable and objective way to determine which students had relied on U.S. News employment statistics when deciding where to enroll, or how much weight each student had placed on the statistics.  Judge Joel M. Pressman explained in his order, “[i]n this case, determining membership rests exclusively on self-authentication, which seems in this case to be unreliable.” 

Following denial of class certification, Ms. Alaburda continued pursuing her individual claims for intentional fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) against TJSL.  After a trial lasting nearly three weeks, the jury returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of the defense on March 24, 2016.  Specifically, the jury determined that TJSL did not falsely represent its post-graduate employment statistics in the U.S. News editions that Ms. Alaburda reviewed.  In a post-trial interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, juror Wade DeMond explained that while some jurors believed that TJSL could have done a better job reporting the job status of its graduates, most jurors ultimately decided that statistics reported in the specific editions of U.S. News that Ms. Alaburda relied on were accurate.  Had the jury been asked to consider other editions of the publication, Mr. DeMond speculated that the outcome may have been different. 

For more on the San Diego Union-Tribune’s interview with Mr. DeMond, see Gary Warth’s article, “Jury rejects fraud claim against law school,” published in the March 24, 2016 edition of the newspaper.