Judge: Application provision sends blind man's ADA suit vs cooking school to arbitration

By Scott Holland | May 1, 2017

A federal judge has ordered a blind man’s discrimination complaint against Chicago cooking school Le Cordon Bleu out of his courtroom and into arbitration.

A federal judge has ordered a blind man’s discrimination complaint against a Chicago cooking school out of his courtroom and into arbitration.

In an opinion issued April 20, U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso said the dispute over Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines between Eric Chausse and the operator of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts does not belong in his courtroom.

Chausse, who is legally blind, said Career Education Corporation, Le Cordon Bleu’s parent company, wrongly denied him enrollment at its Chicago cooking school. CEC and the school are named defendants in his complaint, as are CEC Food and Beverage, LLC, and the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago Inc.

Le Cordon Bleu denied Chausse’s admission application with an October 2014 letter, citing Chausse’s blindness. But Chausse said the school failed to offer reasonable accommodations.

However, the school said Chausse can’t sue them over the matter, because when Chausse applied for admission, “he entered into an enrollment agreement that requires arbitration of potential claims or disputes between the parties.”

Le Cordon Bleu cited the application Chausse signed, highlighting the portion that dictates disputes must be resolved through binding arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association.

Chausse, however, said his lawsuit did not concern his 2010 application but a separate application filed online July 15, 2014. However, Alonso noted Chausse’s “response brief fails to explain what he believes is the legal effect of the 2014 application.”

The school said it has no record of Chausse applying in 2014, and further that any student who applied for enrollment, online or otherwise, similarly signed an agreement that contained the same arbitration provision as found in Chausse’s 2010 written application. Alonso said Chausse provided no evidence to counter the school’s position, nor did he argue that whatever application he submitted in 2014 negated the agreements he signed in 2010.

Further, Alonso said Chausse failed to develop his argument the enrollment agreement is not a contract, writing: “The enrollment agreement and the arbitration provision are supported by consideration because the college agreed to consider plaintiff for enrollment in exchange for plaintiff’s agreement to abide by its rules and procedures, and both parties agreed to arbitrate their disputes.”

Chausse also took issue with the nature of the college’s arbitration provisions, but Alonso said those challenges focus on the agreement’s own enforceability, which makes the issues themselves subject to arbitration.

Since Chausse brought only a single claim, and since the agreement prevents litigating that claim in federal court, Alonso dismissed the action without prejudice and ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration.

Chausse is represented in his lawsuit by attorney Jeffrey Morris Jacobson, of Wheaton.

CEC and Le Cordon Bleu are defended by attorneys with the firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Career Education Corporation Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Seyfarth Shaw, LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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