Higher Education

Goldberg Segalla offers an all-inclusive suite of services to public and private colleges and universities. We provide counsel to presidents, administrators, trustees, and staff on pressing issues including financing, governance, day-to-day operations, and ethics and regulatory compliance. With a team of attorneys drawing on deep backgrounds in higher education — including former Human Resources administrators and general counsel to public universities — Goldberg Segalla brings to every client valuable knowledge of trends and current issues in higher education, an appreciation for budgetary restraints and priorities, and an inherent sensitivity to media exposure.

Like experienced educators, our attorneys have deep and diverse areas of specialization, and call on each other to meet all of our clients’ needs, providing truly comprehensive counsel.

Like experienced administrators, we know how to deliver that counsel efficiently and on a budget — eschewing Big Law practices that drive up billable hours and court costs, and opting instead to tailor services to clients’ needs and means.

Serving public and private universities across several states, our attorneys offer counsel on the full range of concerns that educational institutions face, in areas including  operations, governance, budgets and finances, academic affairs, labor and employment, business services and contract management, facilities, student and residential life, disability accommodations, student athletics, and regulatory agency compliance.

Government Compliance, Audits, and Investigations 

Our attorneys advise public and private entities on best practices in corporate governance — with particular attention to the latest developments and trends affecting higher education — and counsel committees and boards on their responsibilities, including their fiduciary obligations under applicable state laws, as well as board and committee composition and practices, codes of conduct, and conflicts of interest. We assist institutions during audits and review policies and procedures to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, including:

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
  • Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)
  • Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA)
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Individual State Privacy Laws
  • Data breach response and Privacy Impact Assessments
  • New York Executive Law
  • The Taylor Law
  • First Amendment issues
  • Title IX
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
  • Other statutes and regulations pertaining to higher education

We also have significant experience defending colleges and guiding boards and administrators through internal and external observations, including everything from the Middle States accreditation process to harassment and discrimination investigations by the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

With a team of attorneys that includes former general counsel to universities and a former college administrator, we know very well that damage to the reputation of a college or university can impact student recruitment and retention, alumni donations, and even federal funding for years after an incident. We help our clients limit or eliminate liability and minimize reputational exposures through various established and innovative insurance and risk management procedures, such as auditing for internal compliance.

  • Our team has successfully defended an institution in OCR investigations resulting in dismissal of separate complaints of discrimination brought by students based upon race, disability, and alleged failure to provide reasonable accommodations.
Information Management and Security

Cybersecurity is a leading emerging risk for professionals in every industry. The sheer volume of sensitive data that college and university administrators and staff store and access, however, puts institutions of higher education particularly at risk — from outside attackers, insiders with access, and accidents borne of poor procedure and failures of compliance.

Our attorneys combine knowledge of cybersecurity and liability with a thorough understanding of the laws and regulations that uniquely apply to colleges and universities, providing guidance on compliance with privacy laws including:

  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
  • FERPA
  • PPRA
  • COPPA
  • HIPAA
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
  • Individual State’s privacy and security statutes and regulations

Partnering with Goldberg Segalla means partnering with thought-leaders in cybersecurity and emerging data risks. We offer powerful and sensitive defense in the event of a catastrophic data breach or leak leading to litigation or investigation — but our “defense” starts much earlier, with counsel on drafting and implementing data storage and access protocol and response plans that can evolve ahead of new threats, laws, litigation trends, and crises. For example:

  • Data breach response on behalf of educational institutions, including coordinating with computer forensics to investigate the extent of the breach; analyzing individual notification and reporting requirements and handling all notice and reporting obligations.
  • Developing (or improving) incident response plans, including conducting table top exercises to help prepare institutions in the event of a data breach.
  • Analyzing data protection protocols in place for dealing with third-party vendors of various institutions; including developing data security and data privacy contract addendums to better protect institutions and shift potential liability to at-fault third parties.
Disability and Civil Rights

We draft and review policies and procedures concerning ADA, Title IX, and civil rights law compliance, and train college and university staff at all levels on responsibilities and best practices in these areas. Our attorneys are fully equipped and experienced to guide the provision of accommodations for faculty and students with disabilities and to ensure compliance with all anti-discrimination laws. We also have experience representing clients in administrative actions before regulatory and investigative bodies including:

  • U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • New York State Division of Human Rights
  • New York City Commission on Civil Rights

We have also handled litigation before federal and New York State courts, and are well-equipped to handle appeals, drawing on the robust services of our Appellate Practice Group.

  • One of our attorneys, while in-house counsel to a community college, represented the institution in an an OCR investigation into a Title IX Equity in Athletics Complaint, drafting the response and coordinating presentation of data to OCR in defense of the complaint.
Employment Litigation and Administrative Hearings

Our attorneys defend institutions and administrators against employment-related matters such as employment discrimination, wage/hour issues, wrongful discharge matters, and constitutional claims. We regularly advise our clients in conflicts and litigation related to tenure, promotion, and termination of faculty and staff, with an unfailing sensitivity to the labor and employment concerns unique to the field of higher education. Our attorneys also provide proactive counsel and preventive policy development to avoid the cost and reputational damage of disputes before they can begin. We assist with all phases of the employment cycle, from drafting job descriptions through tenure and evaluation or termination, providing our clients with ongoing guidance on the evolution and interplay of complex labor laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, state workers’ compensation laws, military leave laws, New York Paid Family Leave, and other statutes.

  • One of our attorneys, while in-house counsel to a community college, successfully defended an arbitration in which the arbitrator upheld discipline rendered to a tenured faculty member and imposed a three-week suspension.
Labor, Collective Bargaining, and Unions

Our attorneys have considerable experience negotiating collective bargaining agreements between our clients and faculty and staff unions in both the public and private sectors. We advise clients regarding the interpretation and administration of collective bargaining agreements, represent employers in arbitration hearings, and appear on behalf of employers at all levels of the court system, as well as before the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Our attorneys have experience negotiating contracts with faculty and administrators as well as blue collar and white collar units.

  • While in-house counsel at a community college, one of our attorneys successfully moved to vacate a $700,000 arbitration award rendered in favor of a faculty union arising out a of a leap year payment dispute. We successfully argued on behalf of the college that the arbitration award was patently irrational.
Construction, Commercial Leasing, and Real Estate

The members of our Higher Education team work closely with attorneys in the firm's Construction and Real Estate Litigation Practice Groups to help our clients in higher education handle the unique construction, leasing, and real property projects and challenges that such institutions face. Our service begins with developing an understanding of each institution's short-term goals and long-term objectives, with an eye toward how the construction, acquisition, sale, and leasing of properties fits into each client's educational mission, strategic development initiatives, and budget. Our attorneys have helped colleges and universities monetize existing assets through leases of commercial real estate such as office space, parking lots, and radio and cell towers. We have also assisted clients in rezoning or securing variances for property; selling and acquiring property; and navigating estate proceedings for institutions named as beneficiaries of wills or trusts. In addition, our Higher Education attorneys have teamed up with members of our nationally renowned Construction practice to assist colleges and universities at every stage of construction projects, from project inception, planning, and financing, through completion.

A short list of the construction, leasing, and real estate services the Higher Education Practice Group can provide our clients includes:

  • Title and priority issue litigation concerning property line disputes, mechanic’s liens, easements, notices of pendency, and adverse possession claims 
  • Real estate transfers under the Religious Corporations Law, membership agreements, partnerships, and not-for-profit corporations 
  • Lobbying efforts to resolve issues with prior governmental properties
  • Coverage investigation, response, recoupment, and litigation
  • Survey and property description errors
  • Equity analysis surrounding mortgages, property liens, and subrogation
  • Property conveyance negligence actions
  • Representing institutional beneficiaries of real property bequests and donations
  • Zoning, rezoning, and variances
  • Tax certiorari proceedings
  • Litigation of lease disputes
Student and Residential Life

We assist colleges and universities with student life matters, beginning with drafting and revising policies, procedures, and student handbook language for areas including:

  • Campus judicial procedures
  • Human rights
  • ADA accommodations
  • Residential life issues
  • Auxiliary services corporations
  • Student clubs
  • Campus safety and security
  • Grievances
  • Sexual harassment and assault
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Computer use

In the event that a student life matter proceeds to an external investigation or to litigation, we are fully prepared to counsel and defend our clients with the utmost tact and discretion.