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Colleges & Universities

Practice Overview

Colleges and universities face unique legal issues that require experience, sensitivity, and judgment to resolve. Educational institutions are entrusted with a special mission and are under substantial pressure to meet the needs of multiple, sometimes competing, constituencies, both internal and external. Their actions are subject to an unparalleled degree of scrutiny, including by students, alumni, boards, their communities, and the government. Buckley Sandler’s higher-education attorneys are singularly well suited to assist colleges and universities in navigating the distinctive challenges that arise in the higher-education setting.

Faculty Litigation: Faculty members are a college or university’s most valuable resource, and disputes between a college or university and its faculty members require the utmost sensitivity and judgment to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Failure to do so exposes a college or university to damaging publicity and long-term institutional and reputational consequences. We have significant experience in litigating and resolving complex employment cases while successfully managing the risk of adverse publicity.

Student Litigation: Like disputes between the institution and its faculty, disputes between a college and its students raise unique challenges and require the utmost sensitivity, particularly when they involve issue of student safety, such as sexual harassment or assault on campus. Our attorneys know the issues, including under Title IX and the Clery Act, and have the experience to handle these cases with skill and sensitivity.

Government Investigations: Particularly in higher education, the stakes of government investigations are high, and the costs can be formidable. Buckley Sandler has represented colleges and universities in a variety of matters, including False Claims Act investigations and qui tam lawsuits, Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigations, and investigations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. Our attorneys include former state and federal prosecutors who carry vital credibility with the government on these issues. They have the experience to handle these matters efficiently and with appropriate sensitivity to cost.

Internal Investigations: Whether the issue involves alleged misconduct by a faculty member, administrator, or athletic department staff, a fair and thorough internal investigation can be invaluable in scoping the extent of the problem, correcting it, and creating a record of its serious and professional handling. An internal investigation must be carefully designed and conducted appropriately, to establish the credibility necessary to pass muster with internal and external constituencies. Buckley Sandler attorneys have significant experience handling internal investigations for universities, whether initiated by whistleblowers or proactively by the client.

Noteworthy representations include:

  • A research university in a False Claims Act qui tam investigation relating to NIH grants
     
  • A university in a New York State Supreme Court lawsuit raising contract and tort claims by an associate professor alleging demotion and denial of resources
     
  • A university in a federal court lawsuit by an undergraduate student alleging false arrest and false imprisonment in connection with forced removal of the student from university housing and involuntary committal to a hospital
     
  • A university in connection with an investigation brought by the Department of Education’s OCR into a complaint alleging failure to accommodate a graduate student
     
  • An internal investigation on behalf of a university regarding anonymous whistleblower allegations of contracting fraud
     
  • An internal investigation on behalf of a university into student allegations of a hostile educational environment
     
  • University administrators in a First Amendment lawsuit relating to speech on campus

Our Colleges & Universities Team