Lawsuit against GCU thrown out by Atlanta court
(May 18, 2020) — Grand Canyon University is sharing this statement with its stakeholders to provide an update on a class-action lawsuit that was filed in July of 2019 – which the University addressed publicly at that time in this statement.
As expected, the lawsuit has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. The court ruled on May 11, 2020, that GCU’s Enrollment Agreement “clearly stated” that the plaintiff’s academic program would not lead to licensure in Georgia and that the plaintiff would have known that “had she read the Enrollment Agreement.”
The frivolous lawsuit was filed on July 18, 2019, on behalf of Debra Austin and another plaintiff and became the lead story on the Arizona Republic’s website the day it was filed. The Republic has yet to report the lawsuit has been dismissed.
Austin alleged that GCU’s “misrepresentations or omissions caused her to believe, wrongly, that completion of her graduate program would lead to licensure in Georgia.” However, the court ruled that Austin’s “belief would have quickly been corrected had she read the Enrollment Agreement she signed on October 16, 2013 — which clearly stated, under a bolded heading reading ‘Georgia Authorization’: ‘This program is not intended to lead to licensure or certificate advancement through the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (‘GaPSC’).’”
Austin’s Enrollment Agreement is a page-and-a-half in length, and the bold Georgia Authorization heading is listed prominently on the first page.
The complaints in the lawsuit were also presented in September to the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education (AZPPSE), which is the state regulatory authority for GCU. AZPPSE declined to open an investigation into the matter after reviewing the allegations, citing a lack of any legitimate substance in the complaints.
The Georgia court dismissed other plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. This is the second lawsuit against GCU filed by the same Georgia law firm that has been dismissed.
“It was pretty clear from the outset that this case lacked merit and would be dismissed, yet for some reason it became front-page news,” said GCU President Brian Mueller. “We expect the other plaintiffs’ cases that lacked jurisdiction will either not be re-filed or will also be dismissed.”
The Arizona Republic wrote a 1,000-word story on the lawsuit the day it was filed that went into great detail on the allegations from two plaintiffs, including an interview with Austin. GCU was given a two-hour window by reporter Rachel Leingang in which to respond to the 54-page document even though it had just been filed that afternoon and the University had not yet been officially served with the complaint or even knew such a lawsuit existed. Leingang provided GCU with a copy of the lawsuit, which the University’s legal representatives could not verify was authentic until obtaining one from the Georgia court system the following day.
Mueller said the University is considering all options, including seeking to recover its attorney fees from the plaintiffs, and any other legal remedies given that publicity of this baseless lawsuit resulted in significant economic and reputation harm to GCU. For example, the Pittsburgh Public Schools cited the lawsuit when it canceled a partnership agreement it had with GCU to provide higher education opportunities that would have increased diversity of teachers in its K-12 schools.
“GCU is not a litigious organization, but it’s unfortunate that frivolous lawsuits such as this warrant this kind of attention,” Mueller said. “GCU currently serves more than 100,000 students and is now producing 25,000 graduates on an annual basis. Out of those hundreds of thousands of students in the past 10 years, this law firm ultimately found four who felt they did not have a good experience.
“The experience for the other 99.99% is that our enrollment process is extremely transparent as it relates to financial aid, degree requirements, responsible borrowing, state compliance and counseling services. We have also had roughly 20 universities visit GCU in the past few years to learn more about our processes, and they universally state that our level of transparency throughout the enrollment process and technological advancements exceed anything they have seen. That will continue to be our focus moving forward.”