Breaking: Ex-CSO assistant director from Thomas Jefferson admits to fraud, alleges deliberate scheme by law school

In a sworn statement, Karen Grant, a former career services assistant director at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, admits that she fabricated graduate employment outcomes for the class of 2006. Grant alleges that her fraud was part of a deliberate scheme by the law school’s administration to inflate its employment statistics. She also claims that her direct supervisor, Laura Weseley, former Director of Career Services, instructed her on multiple occasions to improperly record graduate employment outcomes and justified the scheme because “everybody does it” thus “it is no big deal.” TJSL could face sanctions from the American Bar Association as severe as losing accreditation.

Grant was Assistant Director of Career Services at TJSL from September 2006 to September 2007, during which she was tasked with tracking and recording employment outcomes of recent graduates. Grant is a licensed California attorney and made her sworn declaration on August 2, 2012 in connection to the class action lawsuit filed by Anna Alaburda, et al. against TJSL in 2011. (Complaint; Original Story.) Grant’s statement was filed in court last week in connection to Alaburda’s motion for sanctions.

Specifically, Grant admits that she “routinely recorded currently unemployed students as ‘employed’ if they had been employed at any time since graduation,” which is a violation of both ABA and NALP reporting guidelines. Graduates should only be recorded as employed if they are employed as of February Exhibit B, A handwritten note by Karen Grant from a meeting with Laura Weseley on Oct. 16, 2006. 15 following graduation.

Grant’s admitted actions likely mean that TJSL violated ABA Standard 509 and Interpretation 509-3. Possible sanctions under Rule 16 for violating Standard 509 include monetary penalty, censure, probation, and losing accreditation.

Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School, says that “the ABA ought to be pursuing an investigation vigorously.” He continued, “if the ABA is at all serious about transparency, they will have to crack down on this.” The ABA is preparing its public comments, which will be available shortly. (Update: see below for ABA comments.)

In addition to her own admission, Grant alleges that Weseley, her then-boss, instructed her to misrecord graduate employment outcomes and justified the actions based on a belief that such practices were widespread throughout the legal education community. From Ms. Grant’s testimony (emphasis added):

4. … I was instructed to “probe” graduates because “they may say no,” meaning that graduates may indicate they were currently unemployed and I therefore needed to ask whether they had been employed any time prior to graduation.

5. … Ms. Weseley instructed me to “update ERSS prior to Feb if [unemployed] & become [employed] but not vice-versa.” … I expressed my concern at the time that it did not seem right to update graduates’ employment data only if the graduate became employed, but not if they became unemployed.

Grant continues by explaining her data recording process and Weseley’s alleged influence on it:

6. Ms. Weseley later reiterated that, when talking to students, I was to first ask if they were currently employed. If the graduate indicated he or she was not currently employed, I would then inquire whether he or she was employed at any time after graduation. If the graduate indicated he or she was employed at any time after graduation (even though currently unemployed), I was instructed to record the graduate as “employed” in TJSL’s Excel software.

7. I again expressed my concern and told Ms. Weseley that it not seem right to report currently unemployed students as “employed” merely because they had been employed at some point after graduation. Ms. Weseley responded by saying “it is no big deal, everybody does it.”

8. I followed Ms. Weseley’s instructions. I routinely recorded currently unemployed students as “employed” if they had been employed at any time since graduation. As a result, the employment data that I entered into the Excel files included currently unemployed students who were inaccurately categorized as “employed.”

It is the nature of the process that schools do not follow up with certain graduates before submitting data to NALP by the end of February. Schools begin collecting post-graduation job outcome data shortly before graduation and continue through the February 15 reporting deadline. Once a school knows that a graduate has a job, career services staffers will often cease follow-ups because they believe their time is better spent elsewhere.

However, Grant alleges that the accepted practice in the TJSL career services office, at least during her tenure, went beyond cherry picking which students to follow up with. She alleges that she participated in a scheme that guaranteed that TJSL’s employment stats would be better than the reality by affirmatively ignoring new, true, and proper outcomes of graduates whose jobs were terminated or ran their course before the reporting deadline. Grant admits that TJSL submitted false information to NALP, U.S. News, and the American Bar Association as a result of her counting as employed at nine-months any student who was employed at any time after graduation regardless of whether they had a job at that time.

A look at the statistics TJSL reported to the ABA for the class of 2006 confirms that the numbers from Grant’s spreadsheet, Exhibit D of her declaration, were submitted to the ABA. These numbers were not submitted to the ABA until after her termination in September 2007.

In an email to LST, Rudy Hasl, dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, questioned Grant’s reliability, disputing the accuracy of her sworn testimony and her motivations. “The law school stands behind the accuracy of the data that we submitted to the American Bar Association.” Sources report that Grant was terminated in 2007, though when asked for clarification, Dean Hasl would not comment on internal personnel matters beyond suggesting that LST “do a due diligence analysis … including the reasons for her departure from the School of Law.”

Grant’s admission marks the first on-the-record account of a law school administrator falsifying employment data. It remains to be seen whether she was a rogue employee, or whether there was a deliberate scheme by the law school to inflate the appearance of its employment outcomes. Nevertheless, her allegations of a culture within American legal education where fraudulent reporting is a legitimate strategy are sure to reignite concerns about the quality of data that schools report, how schools present data to the public, and whether the current level of public investment in legal education is appropriate in light of this culture.

UPDATE: Comment from ABA

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is fully committed to ensuring that law schools comply with the letter and spirit of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools and all reporting requirements. We take seriously our responsibilities for collecting and disseminating law school data, including employment data.

The actions of a few schools have called into question the integrity of all. As a consequence, the Section has been called upon to play a greater role in investigating possible non-compliance with our rules and in sanctioning non-complying schools. We regularly follow up on reports and other communications regarding possible non-compliance with the Standards that come to our attention.

Under our rules, all matters concerning the accreditation of an individual school must be confidential. Thus, we cannot comment on the matter that is now being reported. Given the confidentiality requirement, no one should assume that a matter has not been, or is not being, addressed.

Last year, in an effort to increase clarity, accuracy and accountability in the reporting of employment data, the Section began requiring law schools to report employment data directly to the Section; in the past, schools reported this information to NALP. We have established detailed definitions and instructions for the reporting of employment data. The Section is fully committed to the clarity and accuracy of law school placement data. By vigorously enforcing the Standard that requires fair and accurate reporting of consumer information, and by having law schools report more comprehensive, specific consumer information, as a result, those students who choose to enter law school will be better informed about the prospects for employment than ever before.

UPDATE: Context of Court Filing

LST received a copy of the evidence as it was filed last Thursday by Anna Alaburda’s attorneys. It was filed in connection to her latest motion, a motion for sanctions.

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