On June 10, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) renounced jurisdiction over faculty employees at most religious educational institutions. The Bethany College case overruled the NLRB’s 2014 Pacific Lutheran University decision, through which many NLRB Regional Directors had ordered union elections at religiously-affiliated schools (such as a Catholic university in Seattle) In Bethany College, the NLRB adopted a new jurisdictional standard, adopted from a 2002 opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, University of Great Falls v. NLRB, under which it will not assert jurisdiction over an institution that: (a) holds itself out to the public as a religious institution, (b) is nonprofit, and (c) is religiously affiliated.
On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released final regulations governing how institutions that receive federal financial assistance covered by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) must respond to allegations of sexual harassment. Notably, in the decades during which the department has been responsible for overseeing Title IX compliance, this is the first time it has issued regulations addressing sexual harassment as a form of prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.
On May 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education, outlining recommendations and guidance on ways universities and colleges can safely open while helping to protect their students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members. The CDC cautions that “[t]he more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”
Universities continue to see a rise of COVID-19-related class action lawsuits alleging that campus closures deny students the full benefits of an on-campus college experience. This new wave of class action lawsuits generally seek full refunds for tuition, room and boarding costs, and other matriculation fees based on a breach of contract theory and claims of unjust enrichment. Many colleges and universities have already taken proactive measures that will help defend against these lawsuits. Some institutions implemented policies to refund student monies or apply room and boarding fees for the impacted term of enrollment toward future enrollment periods. For universities that have not taken these measures, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act may provide a potential, unintended defense to a class action.
President Donald Trump signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) (Pub. L. No. 115-232) into law on August 13, 2018. Section 889 of the NDAA applies to schools, including hospital systems, labs, and research affiliates, receiving federal contracts, grants, and loans. Specifically, § 889(a)(1)(A), which went into effect on August 13, 2019, prohibits an executive agency from “procur[ing] or obtain[ing] or extend[ing] or renew[ing] a contract to procure or obtain any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as a part of any system.”
After switching to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and sending students home, colleges and universities are beginning to face class action lawsuits seeking refunds of tuition, housing costs, meal plans, and fees. One such lawsuit is Church v. Purdue University, No. 4:20-CV-0025, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.
In Theidon v. Harvard University, No. 18-1279 (January 31, 2020), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision granting summary judgment for Harvard University as to a female professor’s gender discrimination and retaliation claims.
On December 12, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a sexual misconduct complainant’s fear of further contact with the respondent was not enough to support a claim against the university for deliberate indifference under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
On September 30, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed California legislation—Senate Bill (SB) 206—that would permit college student athletes to benefit financially (for example, from endorsement deals) from their names, images, and likenesses while still in school. Governor Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) sponsored, with much fanfare, alongside a high-profile professional basketball player and several former college student athletes. The new law is scheduled to take effect in January 2023.
On October 11, 2019, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) published to its website the long-awaited Educational Institutions Technical Assistance Guide (TAG).
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion on March 18, 2019, that will undoubtedly become a pivotal Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) case in the context of higher education.
This is an update to our article, Back to School for ERISA Fiduciary Claims: How to Prepare for This Trend in University Litigation, which was published on August 22, 2017.
In January 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2019-09, which provides interim guidance for Section 4960 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
Section 4960 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC), as amended, imposes an excise tax on compensation of certain highly compensated employees of tax-exempt organizations.
Recent statistics show that approximately 70 percent of college graduates will leave college with an average of at least $30,000 in student loan debt. Cumulatively, the national student loan debt is approximately $1.5 trillion. This burden is causing millennials to wait longer than previous generations to buy houses, start families, and save for retirement. Although student loan indebtedness is not an issue employers can solve alone, a few are finding ways to recruit and retain talent by offering a helping hand to employees dealing with massive debt burdens.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and 11 of its member conferences are on trial in In Re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation (4:14-md-2541) to defend against antitrust challenges to current rules limiting the amount members may pay to student-athletes for the cost of attendance.
July 26, 2018, is National Intern Day according to WayUp, the job site for college students and recent graduates. The organization’s campaign to acknowledge the role of interns in the workforce is intended to “encourage employers to celebrate, empower and recognize interns.” WayUp encourages employers to participate in the “holiday” by celebrating their interns (“anything from a mentorship session to a free pizza lunch or anything that feels right for your company”).
The extension of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) allows eligible students to apply to extend their post-completion OPT authorization. Under the 2008 interim final rule, an F-1 student with a STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education could apply for an additional 17 months of OPT (per the 17-month STEM OPT extension), provided that the employer from which the student sought employment was enrolled in and remained in good standing in the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification program, as determined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
On April 12, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued a new fact sheet concerning “the applicability of [the white collar] exemptions [of the Fair Labor Standards Act] to jobs that are common in higher education institutions.” In contrast to other recent DOL direction, Fact Sheet #17S largely echoes previous guidance from the Obama-era DOL.
The enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has raised a number of potential issues for institutions of higher education. Due to this significant impact, institutions need to study the Tax Act and plan appropriately.
Over the last few years, several federal courts—and, most recently last month, another appellate court—rejected the Obama administration’s mandatory six-prong test for whether someone can properly be classified as an unpaid intern under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). On January 5, 2018, the Trump administration issued an overhauled Fact Sheet #71, which formerly adopts a more flexible “primary beneficiary/economic reality” test.
Any privately held, for-profit company could potentially be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) requirement to provide comprehensive contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing based on the company’s “sincerely held moral convictions,” under interim final regulations published in the Federal Register on October 13, 2017.
On Friday, September 22, 2017, when the Trump administration announced that it was rescinding Obama-era Title IX sexual assault guidance and issuing a new question and answer document while undertaking a formal review, most assumed it meant the previous Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence issued by the U.S. Department of Education on April 29, 2014, had been rescinded.
In the past 10 years, there have been an increasing number of lawsuits asserting Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) fiduciary claims. These have been accompanied by an increased focus by the Department of Labor (DOL) on fiduciary matters. This trend began with lawsuits against 401(k) plan fiduciaries alleging poor investment options and has evolved into lawsuits challenging not only the performance of investments offered under the plan, but also the fees associated with those investments. In addition, almost all of the more recent lawsuits examine not only the expenses associated with the investments, but all of the fees that the plan pays. They also allege that plan participants suffered losses to the value of their retirement savings.