The “F” rating that Philip Jegede’s seminary got from the Better Business Bureau is gone, swept away after a jury found the organization had defamed the school and ordered it to pay $5,020.50.
But that does not end Jegede’s clash with the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Arguing that he spent an estimated $50,000 battling the giant consumer watchdog, the White Bear Lake minister and entrepreneur said he’ll ask for punitive damages and greater compensation for his legal costs.
“They destroyed the seminary,” Jegede said in an interview Friday. “We’re just trying to survive right now.”
For its part, the BBB isn’t quite backing down either. Barb Grieman, senior vice president of the local office, said she expects Jegede and his lawyer to challenge the outcome. The Dec. 22 court order does not address the grade the BBB gave the seminary, Grieman noted, and focuses only on statements the BBB made.
“The BBB will continue to apply its published policies and procedures in determining a company’s BBB rating,” Grieman said via e-mail.
According to Jegede’s lawyer, James T. Smith, the BBB removed the “F” from its website days after the jury’s decision.
Jegede, who lives in White Bear Lake, runs the online North Central Theological Seminary from offices in Columbia Heights. (It’s not connected to North Central University in Minneapolis.)
Owned by the Philip Jegede Evangelistic Association, the school is a tax-exempt nonprofit that trains ministers around the world. Many students who have enrolled are indigent and in Africa, he told the Star Tribune earlier.
Jegede said he first contacted the BBB about ratings last spring and discovered the seminary already had an A+ even though he had not signed up. He said the BBB offered him a discount to sign up two entities. So he tried to register the school and a start-up called Favorfloat Corp., a for-profit company offering financial services including consumer credit repair that is one of several companies Jegede runs.
Later the BBB asserted that Jegede wouldn’t supply documents to substantiate advertising claims about the seminary’s faculty, student satisfaction rates and accreditation. It also denied accreditation to Favorfloat Corp. because the company requires people to pay upfront fees for credit repair services.
Soon, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education got involved. Religious institutions offering narrowly focused religious degrees are exempt from state licensing requirements. Betsy Talbot, manager of institutional licensing and registration, said her group began evaluating the seminary as part of a broader look at such schools, to see if they meet the requirements. That evaluation is ongoing.
Jegede, who emigrated from Nigeria years ago, ultimately accused the BBB of racial profiling — a charge the organization has vigorously denied. He sued the BBB for defamation last May in Dakota County District Court.
After a 2½ day trial in late December, the jury decided that the BBB made two false and defamatory statements about the seminary on its website. One said the school’s website “disparaged competitors services.” A second was an assertion that the school didn’t respond to specific questions the BBB raised in a letter dated April 21.
According to Smith, Jegede’s lawyer, that letter included various requests, one of which accused the school of “disparaging its competitors,” and asked it to change its assertion that religious counseling was superior to secular counseling. Smith said the school wrote a letter refusing to change its tenets and saying it didn’t want to be associated with the BBB if it was going to “pry into its religious beliefs.”
On Friday, the Better Business Bureau entry for North Central Theological Seminary said: “The BBB’s information on this company is being updated, and no report is available at this time.”