Higher Education

Tenth Circuit Decision Reminds Educational Institutions to be Wary of Whistleblower Retaliation Claims

May 26, 2020

On April 24, 2020, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals revived a former college coach’s retaliation claim brought against his previous employer. The case, Marc Benjamin v. Board of Trustees of Barton Community College, involves a former women’s softball coach who claimed he was terminated by the college because he “blew the whistle” on other college coaches who had violated league rules. The district court that first heard the case granted summary judgment in favor of the college, effectively finding that no reasonable jury could find in favor of Mr. Benjamin’s claims. Mr. Benjamin appealed, and the Tenth Circuit subsequently reversed the district court’s decision. 

Read More >> <p>Tenth Circuit Decision Reminds Educational Institutions to be Wary of Whistleblower Retaliation Claims</p>

Application of Common Law Negligence to Cases of Peer Sexual Misconduct: Potential Implications for the Scope of Institutional Liability

May 11, 2020

By Sarah A. Luke

In a decision on April 10, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a college’s motion to dismiss a claim of common law negligence in a lawsuit challenging its administrative response to allegations of sexual assault. Application of this common law standard to such cases is infrequent, and the court’s analysis highlights important differences between a common law theory of negligence and the federal “deliberate indifference” standard applied under Title IX.

Read More >> <p>Application of Common Law Negligence to Cases of Peer Sexual Misconduct: Potential Implications for the Scope of Institutional Liability</p>

Strict Reporting Requirements and Taxability Information for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students

May 7, 2020

By Monica C. Barrett, Jane M. Sovern, and Philip J. Zaccheo

Here are two breaking developments we do not want you to miss. On May 6, 2020, the same day the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued its sweeping Title IX Final Rule, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid announced that all recipients of funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act must post on their primary websites specific details about how they allocated funding for emergency grants to students. This posting must be done within 30 days of receipt of the funds from the federal government. 

Read More >> <p>Strict Reporting Requirements and Taxability Information for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students</p>

Federal Courts Weigh In: Title IX Proceedings During COVID-19

April 30, 2020

By Samuel G. Dobre and Jane M. Sovern

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for college administrators as they evaluate whether to continue Title IX investigations through telephone and video conferences or postpone interviews and hearings until “stay at home” orders are withdrawn by state and local governments. 

If Title IX investigations are postponed, victims of alleged sexual misconduct on campuses may sustain prolonged trauma. On the other hand, students accused of wrongdoing may be at a disadvantage if cases proceed through telephone or videoconferences. The mounting uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic poses unique scenarios for institutions committed to prompt and equitable resolution of complaints. 

Read More >> <p>Federal Courts Weigh In: Title IX Proceedings During COVID-19</p>

A New Epidemic: Class Actions Against Colleges and Universities by Students Demanding Refunds

April 29, 2020

By Monica C. Barrett and Gregory B. Reilly

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many universities and colleges across the country suspended in-person classes and required students to vacate school housing. Students have since filed a wave of federal class action lawsuits against these institutions claiming breach of contract and unjust enrichment for alleged failure to refund the students for tuition, housing and various activities fees. We provide a quick update and overview below.

Read More >> <p>A New Epidemic: Class Actions Against Colleges and Universities by Students Demanding Refunds</p>

First Circuit Decision: No Fiduciary Duty to Students for Higher Education Institutions

April 15, 2020

By Mallory A. Campbell

In Squeri v. Mount Ida College, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the Massachusetts District Court dismissing students’ claims against Mount Ida College for closing its doors.1 In doing so, the First Circuit explained that the officers and trustees of a higher education institution owe a fiduciary duty to the institution itself, but not to its students. This is an important clarification as other higher education institutions face the difficult decision, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, of whether or not to close.

Read More >> <p>First Circuit Decision: No Fiduciary Duty to Students for Higher Education Institutions</p>

Ensuring Accessibility as Institutions Shift Instruction and Operations Online

April 10, 2020

By Sarah A. Luke

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities have shifted to online education to encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus. A herculean task for many institutions, this presents a unique opportunity for institutions to evaluate the accessibility of their websites, learning management systems and online communication platforms for compliance with applicable law. 

Read More >> <p>Ensuring Accessibility as Institutions Shift Instruction and Operations Online</p>

Treatment of Student Workers Under the COVID-19 Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

April 2, 2020

By Hannah K. Redmond, Gail M. Norris, and Jane M. Sovern

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which enacted the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. These Acts make new categories of leave available to eligible employees of covered public employers as well as private employers with fewer than 500 employees. This 500-employee threshold has left many higher education institutions wondering whether their student workers may be counted as employees and whether their students are entitled to leave.

Read More >> <p>Treatment of Student Workers Under the COVID-19 Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act</p>

The Importance of Documentation During Extraordinary Times

April 1, 2020

By Gail M. Norris

The work world during the COVID-19 pandemic has been changing at an astounding pace. As change has occurred, your organization has been making out-of-the ordinary decisions. This communication is a reminder that it is important to appropriately document the decisions you have made and the rationale for them. When this crisis is over and work returns to a new normal, it may be difficult to remember the daily decisions made during these stressful times.

Read More >> <p>The Importance of Documentation During Extraordinary Times</p>

Campus Closed, Case Closed? Not So Fast.

March 18, 2020

By Sarah A. Luke

While many colleges and universities shift to online instruction to prevent the community spread of COVID-19, administrators must consider how their institutions will handle investigations during this time. Institutions face the challenge of ensuring substantial compliance with governing law and internal policy in a new environment, where key stakeholders practice social distancing, may reside in different times zones, and may have different levels of access to technology. 

Read More >> <p>Campus Closed, Case Closed? Not So Fast.</p>