Pepper Hamilton’s Higher Education Practice Group helps colleges, universities and preparatory schools identify, prepare for and solve their most complex legal issues.
A full-service law firm with more than 425 lawyers and 13 offices throughout the country, Pepper has represented clients in higher education throughout its more than 125-year history.
Our lawyers act as trusted advisors who counsel board members, administrators and faculty on the multifaceted challenges that colleges, universities and preparatory schools encounter on a daily basis. These representations have included some of the most high-profile cases in the education sector, including matters related to Title IX, corporate governance, hazing, alumni actions, the First Amendment and discrimination.
Whether it involves labor, finance, tax, intellectual property, civil rights, the First Amendment, data privacy and security, real estate, health care or litigation, Pepper Hamilton has the breadth and depth to tackle our clients’ most pressing legal issues in a diligent and efficient manner. Some of the areas in which we have a particular experience include:
Pepper prides itself on being a true partner to our higher education clients in their day-to-day operations. We serve as outside general counsel to a number of colleges and universities, including schools without their own legal department. We know the issues that impact colleges and universities, and we make ourselves available on a 24-hour basis. We provide advice on student affairs problems, campus safety, the Clery Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, state and federal discrimination laws, and Title IX. In addition, our labor and employment attorneys provide advice and counseling on labor negotiations and virtually every type of employment issue, including Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, whistleblower claims and breach of contract disputes. And we regularly provide advice on the unique issues involving social media, the First Amendment, energy, real estate, construction, alcohol, commercial transactions, employee benefits, financing and cybersecurity. Simply put, we leverage Pepper’s breadth of practice to service the diverse needs of our clients in the higher education space.
Pepper has a long history of representing higher education clients in litigation of all types, whether involving students, faculty, donors, service providers or federal and state regulators, including the Department of Education. We have represented clients in scores of claims related to student conduct proceedings, hazing, faculty tenure and fiscal management, and we are handling some of the highest profile and most important Title IX litigation in the country — cases brought by both complainants and respondents in various jurisdictions.
Pepper’s lawyers also provide comprehensive pre-litigation counseling to address potential risks before matters enter the courtroom, including planning for possible government agency investigations and enforcement actions.
Pepper leverages the experience of our white collar attorneys to help higher education clients conduct internal investigations, reviews and compliance efforts. We advise our clients on matters including allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, student/faculty misconduct, criminal activity, discrimination, financial improprieties, violations of federal and state regulations, and safety and security. We regularly conduct Title IX investigations as outside investigators or as strategic partners with Title IX coordinators for colleges and universities. Internal investigations conducted for colleges and universities have focused on allegations of, among other things, fraud, conflict of interest, and violations of college/university policies. Oftentimes, these investigations originate from hotline complaints raising concerns about the conduct of high level officials. As part of these investigations, we have counseled the administrations and boards and have cooperated in parallel law enforcement investigations. Pepper attorneys have handled some of the most high-profile and significant independent investigations for institutions of higher learning faced with the most pressing of problems.
Labor and Employment
Pepper counsels educational institutions on human resources issues ranging from federal and state employment laws to collective bargaining and representation in employment litigation. We routinely advise our higher education clients on matters involving Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination Employment Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA, WARN and similar state laws. We also defend clients in discrimination cases and in related tort claims, such as wrongful discharge, defamation, intentional interference with contractual relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Pepper recognizes that the best response to labor and employment issues is proactive compliance, and we work with educational institutions to develop comprehensive employee policies and practices, including employee handbooks and guidelines. These services cover issues such as drug and alcohol testing, harassment in the workplace, internal complaint procedures, employee privacy issues and policies to protect against liability for violence in the workplace.
With professors and students working daily on groundbreaking projects, educational institutions need to make sure they are protecting their innovations and other intellectual property. Pepper advises higher education clients on every aspect of moving intellectual property from the research lab to the marketplace. We also counsel colleges and universities and their libraries on rights and responsibilities under the copyright laws. Our work includes counseling on patent assessment and prosecution, copyright and trademark registrations, technology transfers, IP portfolio management, due diligence investigations, IP audits, domestic and international IP protection, licensing, rights clearances, and IP litigation, among others.
Effective governance and oversight of university administration is a critical function for university boards. Pepper works with colleges and universities to assess board governance and risk management policies and procedures, and we recommend improvements to conform with best practices.
Our experience includes advising on size, composition, governance and board independence; ethics and conflicts of interest policies; oversight of the administration; and review, revision and implementation of disciplinary codes, compliance programs and institutional policies and procedures.
Pepper’s Construction Practice Group counsels higher education clients through all phases of a construction project. From preparing requests for proposals to negotiating agreements with consultants and contractors, Pepper works closely with higher education clients to ensure that the client’s goals and the appropriate risk factors are considered at the outset. Pepper also provides clients with guidance and advice during the course of a project, with specific emphasis on the owner’s need to have a quality project completed on time and on budget. When disputes arise, Pepper is ready to analyze the issues and counsel the client on options, from early dispute resolution through trial.
Tax and Planned Giving Advice
Pepper’s Higher Education Practice Group includes lawyers who advise colleges and universities on tax matters, as well as issues specific to nonprofits and tax-exempt organizations. As charitable institutions, colleges and universities often need complex estate planning counsel, and our trusts and estates lawyers regularly advise on both planned giving and estate administration of bequests. We counsel clients on their ongoing tax obligations and on the potential tax consequences of new projects. We also have experience in matters involving endowments, bequests and major gifts.