Education

Kaplan Hecker & Fink attorneys have extensive experience advising and representing educational institutions in employment, student misconduct, and gender-based misconduct and athletics-related Title IX matters.  Kaplan Hecker has also been at the forefront of the recent wave of COVID-related tuition refund litigation filed against colleges and universities across the country.  Based on years of experience and a deep understanding of contract law in the education context, Kaplan Hecker succeeded in securing one of the earliest dismissals in the nation of breach of contract claims for COVID-related tuition refunds. As a result, our client, Columbia University, reached a favorable settlement, saving hundreds of millions of dollars, while still providing thousands of students with a fee refund for Spring 2020. The settlement also provides Columbia relief from further litigation with the settlement class.

Our attorneys are also experienced investigators, assisting our education clients with sensitive internal investigations into allegations of discrimination and gender-based misconduct.  When disparities between the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships exploded on social media in March 2021, the NCAA turned to Kaplan Hecker & Fink to conduct an independent gender equity review of the NCAA’s championships, in all 24 sports, across three separate divisions. Over the course of the investigation, Kaplan Hecker spoke with over 600 NCAA staff, committee members, and external stakeholders, including commissioners, coaches, and student-athletes. In just a few months, our attorneys delivered two thorough public reports, describing in detail various gender disparities and identifying a number of concrete recommendations for improving gender equity in connection with the NCAA championships.  The NCAA has already implemented several of Kaplan Hecker’s recommendations, including the use of March Madness branding for both the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, a larger 68-team bracket for the women’s tournament to match the men’s, budget oversight to ensure equity, and identical gifts and other perks for the men’s and women’s teams.

Kaplan Hecker recognizes that educational institutions are distinct from other organizations. The relationships between a college or university’s administration, its faculty, its students, and its alumni create a set of considerations that are meaningfully different from those of companies and other non-profit organizations. Our attorneys also appreciate that an educational institution’s specific culture is unique and impactful.  What works for one college or university may not work for another. 

Our Education team has received widespread praise for our work in the Education sector. We are pleased that due to our outstanding work in this area, Kaplan Hecker was recently named a “Firm to Watch” for Education in the 2022 edition of The Legal 500. Roberta Kaplan and Gabrielle Tenzer were also named runners-up for Litigation Daily’s “Litigator of the Week” for their success in defending Brown University in an athletics-related lawsuit.

Representative education litigation matters include:

  • Securing, on behalf of Columbia University, one of the earliest dismissals in the nation of breach of contract claims seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition refunds related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Representing seven Virginia school districts in successfully obtaining a temporary restraining order against Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order prohibiting school districts from adopting COVID-19 masking requirements for students.
  • Securing dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to reinstate Brown University’s club squash teams to varsity status. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case after Kaplan Hecker succeeded in defeating a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal district court.
  • Successfully obtaining dismissal of an Article 78 petition in New York State court challenging, among other things, the petitioner’s expulsion for hacking into another student’s email account.
  • Representing and advising institutions of higher education in matters concerning allegations against, and the possible termination of, tenured faculty.

Representative Title IX litigation matters include:

  • Securing a recent settlement in one of the first Title IX athletics cases in the country, Cohen v. Brown University. Critically, this 2020 settlement sets an end date to the parties’ 1998 agreement, which Brown University noted had become “a significant obstacle to the University’s ability to offer women’s and men’s teams the competitive experience athletes deserve and expect.”  Kaplan Hecker successfully defended the 2020 settlement on appeal in the First Circuit.
  • Obtaining the dismissal of claims for injunctive relief and damages arising from the plaintiff’s expulsion and lack of diploma after the university found him responsible for gender-based misconduct in multiple proceedings. 
  • Settling two separate Second Circuit appeals after twice securing the complete dismissal of a plaintiff’s complaint against the university for pre- and post-assault deliberate indifference and negligence.

Representative education investigations include:

  • Conducting an independent investigation into gender equity issues at the NCAA championships, following a viral TikTok video released during the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships in March 2021.  Kaplan Hecker produced two lengthy reports, describing in detail various gender disparities in connection with the NCAA championships in 24 different sports across three separate divisions.
  • Investigating allegations of gender-based misconduct by a faculty member at a prestigious research institution.

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