The Full Federal Court has dismissed an appeal by Productivity Partners Pty Ltd (trading as Captain Cook College) v ACCC  FCAFC 54 against a finding that it engaged in a system of unconscionable conduct in relation to its online diploma courses.
The ACCC commenced proceedings against Captain Cook College in 2018, alleging that the college engaged in a number of unconscionable conduct practices, including:
Harassing and pressuring students to enrol in courses, even when they did not want to;
Making false or misleading representations about the quality of the courses and the job prospects for graduates; and
Failing to provide students with adequate information about the costs and risks of enrolling in the courses
The Federal Court found in favour of the ACCC in 2021, and ordered Captain Cook College to pay penalties of $1.9 million.
Captain Cook College appealed the decision to the Full Federal Court.
In its appeal, Captain Cook College argued that the Federal Court had erred in finding that it had engaged in a system of unconscionable conduct. The college argued that the individual instances of unconscionable conduct alleged by the ACCC were not serious enough to amount to a system.
The Full Federal Court dismissed the appeal, finding that the Federal Court had correctly found that Captain Cook College had engaged in a system of unconscionable conduct.
The court found that the individual instances of unconscionable conduct were serious enough to amount to a system when considered together, and that the college had deliberately targeted vulnerable students. The Full Federal Court's decision is a significant victory for the ACCC, and sends a strong message to providers of education and training services that they must comply with the law.
The Full Federal Court's decision is a significant development in the law of unconscionable conduct, and it is likely to have a broader impact on businesses that deal with consumers. The decision clarifies the law in relation to what constitutes a system of unconscionable conduct, and it sets a high standard for businesses to meet. Businesses that engage in unconscionable conduct risk being found liable for significant damages, and they may also face reputational damage.