A recent class action against Education First claims that the company refuses to refund consumers for trips canceled due to the coronavirus.
Plaintiff Natalia Grabovsky says that her minor child was scheduled to go on an Education First tour, which was canceled due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Although canceling trips is a proactive way to prevent high school children from contracting the coronavirus or bringing it home to vulnerable adults, Grabovsky claims that Education First has implemented an unfair policy which refuses to refund trip participants.
Education First allegedly includes a “No Public Health Emergency Cash Refund Clause” in their trip contracts in order to refuse full refunds to their customers.
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This clause reportedly states that, if a trip is canceled due to a public health issue or quarantine, Education First will not give out full cash refunds. Instead, customers will be given a travel voucher for the cost of their trip, less various “non-refundable fees.”
On March 10, the company allegedly sent a letter to one of their customers refusing to issue any cash refund. On March 16, in response to an earlier complaint made by Grabovsky to the Arizona Office of Attorney General, Education First said that they would only refund the plaintiff $2,200 instead of the full $3,200 she paid out-of-pocket.
Grabovsky argues that this response is confusing and inconsistent. The company has reportedly failed to provide any details about the terms of the newer partial refund.
“In canceling the EF Tours in response to the Virus Epidemic the EF Defendants have until only very recently relied on the No Public Health Emergency Cash Refund Clause to deny EF Class Members […] anything but what the No Public Health Emergency Cash Refund Clause vaguely describes as ‘EF future travel voucher[s] for all monies paid,’” the Education First class action lawsuit claims.
“In constantly changing their position as to what they may allow EF Class Members as a cash refund, the EF Defendants have caused utter confusion concerning what their actual position is.”
The plaintiff notes that Education First hasn’t explained why a “flat $1,000” penalty is reasonable, regardless of the amount a consumer has paid. While Grabovsky paid only $3,200 out-of-pocket, other customers reportedly paid up to $15,000 out-of-pocket.
Based on these actions, Grabovsky argues that Education First violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The Education First class action argues that the company’s inclusion of their no cash refund clause was “procedurally and substantively unconscionable” due to the “potentially calamitous effects” of a global pandemic such as COVID-19.
The plaintiff also alleges that she and other customers were “intentionally lulled into a false sense of security” by the company’s representations that they had the best interest of children and their parents at heart.
Allegedly, the company encouraged this through sponsors from public and private high schools in the United States, as well as using full-time teachers as middlemen.
Finally, the Education First class action claims that the company knew or should have known that a worldwide public health emergency would make rescheduling their tours virtually impossible.
The company allegedly should have known that such an outbreak would result in significant financial consequences, compromising Education First’s ability to provide a future rescheduled trip.
According to Grabovsky, the company should have predicted “that the likely impact of such a cancellation on EF Class Members would be that they would lose some or all of their pre-paid deposit to the unfair financial benefit of the EF Defendants.”
Grabovsky seeks to represent a Class of individuals who entered into an Education First 2019-2020 adhesion contract for a tour arranged through their high school which was scheduled to leave after Jan. 31, 2020. Putative Class Members are included if their tour was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and they were refused a full refund for their trip.
The Education First class action seeks at least $5 million in restitution damages and injunctive relief preventing the company from refusing full cash refunds.
Grabovsky and the proposed Class are represented by William McGrane and Matthew Sepuya of McGrane PC and Michael J. Hassen of RealLaw APC.
The Education First Tour Class Action Lawsuit is Grabovsky v. EF Institute for Cultural Exchange Inc., et al., Case No. 3:20-cv-00508-GPC-BLM, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
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