Archives for: April 23rd, 2019
Thompson & Horton attorneys have the privilege to practice constitutional law almost daily. Our public education clients, for instance, are subject to both the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution. A private company that has terminated an employee and gives a poor reference to a prospective employer may be subject to a defamation claim; public school districts, on the other hand, could get sued for defamation but also for depriving an employee of a liberty interest in his or her personal reputation under the Fourteenth Amendment.
We litigate on behalf of and advise clients on a wide variety of constitutional issues, including:
- Student issues such as free speech and social media; student newspapers and yearbooks; dress codes; search and seizures; extracurricular drug testing; and religious speech in curriculum assignments
- Employee issues such as First Amendment retaliation claims; suspicion-based and suspicionless drug testing of employees; and employment discrimination and civil rights issues, including claims brought under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and civil rights statutes, such as Title VII, Title IX, the ADA, and the ADEA
- School issues such as school prayer; the distribution of religious and other literature at school; the use of public facilities by outside groups; the celebration of religious holidays in public schools; and library and curriculum issues
Our attorneys have been involved in many groundbreaking Texas cases involving constitutional issues, such as Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, which involved a First Amendment challenge to prayer at Texas football games.
We’ve assisted education entities such as the National School Boards Association and the Texas School Boards Association submit “amicus curie” briefs in cases with state and nationwide importance to public education. These include Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, the United States Supreme Court case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, and Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, a United States Supreme Court case involving the drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities.
Thompson & Horton attorneys have published articles and monographs around the country on a wide variety of constitutional issues, including Chris Gilbert’s book, The Oldest Rule: A Primer on Student First Amendment Issues for Attorneys and School Officials.
Our attorneys have the unique experience and sincere interest in constitutional law to help clients through groundbreaking or everyday legal challenges.
School districts, colleges, governments, and businesses all confront difficult and sensitive workplace issues. These situations involve not only complex legal questions, but also delicate political and social issues that may draw public and media interest and scrutiny. Effective resolution of these matters requires legal skill as well as experience and sound judgment. Thompson & Horton clients have recognized the unique skills our lawyers possess in handling these sensitive matters.
We have assisted a large municipality in assessing its fire department following reports of alleged harassment and discrimination and advised the city regarding workplace practices. We have investigated high-profile complaints against top administrators at a state university and allegations of financial misappropriation in a large urban school district that had been the focus of significant public and media attention. We are uniquely qualified to advise clients on policy matters that have high-profile or public scrutiny attached to them.
We bring the same level of experience, thoroughness and judgment when asked to investigate and counsel on less public matters involving allegations of employee or officer wrongdoing.
Training & Compliance
Thompson & Horton attorneys recognize that a well-informed and trained workforce is critical to good decision-making. We believe regular training is a cornerstone of helping to prevent potential legal issues. Thus, our attorneys regularly provide training to our clients, covering a range of topics. We typically use slide presentation format with an opportunity for interactive discussion. We also build in hypothetical situations to help focus the audience on finding solutions. We provide large group seminar training as well as more in-depth, interactive course style training in the following areas:
- Employment law
- Disability law, including the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA
- Open government issues
- Competitive bidding, purchasing, and other business issues
- Real estate
- Nepotism and conflict of interest issues
- Constitutional law issues related to students and employees
Our attorneys have extensive experience in public speaking at the state and national level. We are creative and flexible and understand that effective training requires knowledge of not only the subject matter but also the needs and interests of the trainees.
Our commitment to our clients does not begin at the onset of a transaction or litigation or end once those have been completed. Our attorneys provide regular consultation to clients as well as presentations on current legal trends to establish practices to help prevent litigation and potential liabilities. We provide governmental clients no-cost training seminars and workshops.
Thompson & Horton attorneys bring years of experience and specialization to provide general counsel services to clients. We are a trusted partner with expertise in a myriad of areas, including:
- General school law: Our attorneys provide advice to school districts on issues such as student discipline, attendance, curriculum, testing, and student privacy. We review and revise student codes of conduct and provide training to help administrators comply with discipline laws related to general and special education students.
- Counsel to the Board: Our attorneys regularly advise governing boards regarding the Texas Opens Meetings Act, parliamentary procedure, and other procedural and substantive legal issues that often arise at public meetings or in other settings.
- Policy Development: We guide clients through development of, enactment of, and compliance with local policies that guide all areas of client operations.
- Election law: We help clients with every aspect of the process, from preparing for elections to negotiating contracts for election services to defending clients if disputes arise. We have successfully defended clients in challenges, including a recount petition, a petition for mandamus challenging a district’s decision to reject a candidate’s application to get on the ballot, and challenges to our clients’ electoral systems.
- Conflicts of Interest: We advise governing boards and administration on all aspects of conflicts of interest laws, including compliance with state and federal disclosure and abstention requirements, nepotism restrictions, and civil and criminal laws that government conduct by elected and public officials.
- Open Government: We advise clients on compliance with state and federal open government laws such as the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Public Information Act, and Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).
With our extensive experience, Thompson & Horton offers clients uniquely qualified legal counsel.
Students are at the heart of every public school, private school, and college or university, and legal issues involving students can be highly complex and sensitive. Thompson & Horton attorneys have a long history of work in this area, including:
- Testing and grading issues: Our attorneys work with educational entities in the areas of assessment and accountability and have represented clients in lawsuits over issues such as grades, class rank and GPAs, and graduation.
- Student discipline: We work with clients to create and implement Student Codes of Conduct, represent administrations in informal student discipline hearings, and represent school districts in litigation over discipline-related issues.
- Residency and enrollment issues: We advise administrators on a regular basis regarding the legal requirements for student enrollment in a school district and assist in the often-thorny issue of determining actual residency of students.
- Family law issues: Schools often become involved in custody disputes between divorced or divorcing parents. We work with school administrations on interpreting and implementing custody orders and accompany teachers and other employees who are subpoenaed to testify in court on these issues.
Many of our attorneys have personal ties to educators, and all work to ensure issues involving students are handled with care and respect.
Thompson & Horton attorneys serve higher education clients in a wide variety of legal, policy, and compliance arenas involving:
- All aspects of Title IX law, including litigation, audits, training, and internal and Office for Civil Rights investigations
- All aspects of general educational law, including rights and responsibilities under the Texas Education Code, Title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code, Texas Local Government Code, Texas Government Code, and federal law
- Compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, Public Information Act, records retention laws, conflict of interest laws, and related defense and litigation
- Academic freedom, curriculum issues, faculty publishing, and freedom of speech, including providing advice, training, dispute resolution, and policy development.
- Campus police and public safety, including drafting police regulation manuals and general orders; advising on trespass orders, expunction orders, grand jury subpoenas, and internal investigations; compliance with Texas Commission on Law Enforcement regulations; representing police departments in F-5 hearings; and advising on search and seizure laws
- Compliance with the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, including policy development, compliance with subpoenas, and employee training
- Students’ claims regarding harassment and discrimination, including providing training, investigations, and defense of Office for Civil Rights claims
- Compliance with the Clery Act, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, and Title IX, including policy development, training, prevention of sexual assault, and defense of claims
- Student misconduct and discipline, including advising administrators on the investigation and discipline of students and conducting expulsion hearings; drafting policies compliant with state law and federal due process; and staff training
- Compliance with disability laws, including student accommodation issues in academic and non-academic programs
- Title IX, including compliance with student financial aid regulations, athlete eligibility, program integrity, and equity rules
- Board governance and risk management
- Copyright and trademark law, including faculty publishing, student works, use of social media, and use of third-party materials
- Student issues, including student fees, releases and forms for student activities, student handbooks, legal issues affecting international students, and student/faculty relations
- Academic matters, including admissions and registration, online education programs, and dual-credit programs
- Preparation of reverse articulation agreements between institutions of higher education, clinical affiliation agreements with local hospitals, and contracts between community colleges and other entities such as school districts, and use/license agreements
- Data breach response and general technology issues
- Drug testing of students and employees and compliance programs related to security and drug and alcohol use
- Service area issues, branch campuses, and out-of-district issues
Highlights of our work include:
- We have represented a prominent university client in high-profile litigation involving claims of liability by multiple plaintiffs for alleged acts of sexual harassment by other students.
- We assisted several institutions of higher education in developing policies and procedures to comply with new federal requirements regarding prevention of sexual violence.
- We assisted multiple community colleges in complying with student federal financial aid program integrity regulations by developing new procedures and forms and interacting with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.
- We obtained a favorable federal appellate ruling in an important case involving Title IX.
- We successfully defended community colleges against students’ complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. We managed a response to a high-profile inquiry by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- We obtained an injunction to prevent a disruptive former student from returning to campus.
In the higher education arena, Thompson & Horton attorneys are uniquely qualified to handle all issues, from administrative counsel to high-profile litigation.
Government Relations & Public Policy
Thompson & Horton attorneys have extensive experience helping clients shape policy through legislation and administrative regulations. Our attorneys have been closely involved in many of the most significant legal decisions affecting public school finance over the past 25 years. We have worked closely on legislation and regulations affecting personnel, curriculum, special education services, school board governance, and other matters of vital interest to Texas education.
At the state level, we have represented the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Houston Independent School District, the Texas Fast Growth Schools Association, the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, the Texas School Alliance, and many other organizations before the Texas Legislature, Texas Education Agency, Texas Comptroller’s Office, the Attorney General of Texas, and other agencies.
At the federal level, our attorneys organized and led a large coalition of school districts to provide input regarding the reauthorization of the IDEA and the subsequent rules as well as played key roles in the recent re-authorization of the ESEA (now, ESSA).
We recognize it is essential not only to assist clients with interpreting and implementing laws and regulations, but also to help shape legislation and policy.
Special Eduction & Disability Law
Special education law is highly complex, ever changing, and often fraught with emotion. Attorneys Thompson & Horton have mastered the nuances of special education law and are especially skilled at translating the law’s detailed requirements into actions within the classroom. In addition to being seasoned lawyers, many of us are former educators. We not only “talk the talk” but have “walked the walk.”
Our attorneys represent school districts in all matters regarding students with disabilities, including:
- Attendance and consultation in preparation for ARD committee and Section 504 meetings
- Representation during mediations, hearings under the IDEA and Section 504, and state and federal court
- Hands-on training in all areas of special education and disability law
- In-service presentations to school employees
- Development of inter-local agreements and procedures to implement the IDEA and Section 504
- Working with clients to impact legislation at the state and federal level
We advise administrators and board members on the status of the law, alternatives available, and associated risks. Our philosophy is to provide school districts with the maximum flexibility in making decisions so they can best fulfill their mission.
Business Transactions & Real Estate
Our clients engage in countless business transactions in support of their mission. Thompson & Horton attorneys understand the importance of protecting clients’ interests and minimizing risk in these transactions while enabling them to achieve their objectives. We understand the ethical and conflict of interest rules that govern these transactions. Our practice includes:
- Purchasing and procurement
- Real estate transactions
- Construction contracts and litigation
- Corporate and bylaws matters
- School finance
Our deep knowledge of the law makes us well equipped to advise clients in all aspects of the procurement and purchasing process. Our attorneys train and advise procurement, finance, and operations groups on all such aspects, including the proper use of cooperative purchasing, professional services, sole source, and emergency procurements. Our team can draft solicitations for bids, proposals, and qualifications. We regularly advise in the evaluation process, helping to ensure legal and ethical compliance. In the rare event a vendor challenges a procurement process, whether through grievance or litigation, we assist as well.
We also specialize in reviewing and developing contracts and contract forms for a wide range of goods and services, big and small. We are well versed in drafting and reviewing contracts for software, maintenance, construction, architect and engineering, professional services, interlocal cooperative projects, affiliation agreements, and instructional matters.
Our goal is to help clients obtain the best value and quality services through their business transactions.
Elections & Voting Rights
Thompson & Horton attorneys regularly advise school districts, community colleges, and other governmental entities on issues involving trustee, bond, and voter ratification tax elections. Our services include:
- Preparing required resolutions, election orders and notices, ballot language, joint election agreements, and contracts for election services
- Advising clients on lawful conduct of an election
- Counseling clients on permissible campaign communications and campaign finance and ethics
- Offering counsel on special elections
- Advising clients on the redistricting process and the drawing of district lines and/or making other boundary changes
We have represented governmental entities on election matters in state and federal court and before the United States Department of Justice, the Secretary of State, the Texas Ethics Commission, and the Texas Attorney General. We have extensive experience representing clients in election contests, recounts, challenges to the use of bond proceeds, declaratory judgment actions, voting rights litigation, and petitions to order governmental entities to perform special election duties. We also counsel clients concerning effective strategies for litigation avoidance.
Our attorneys bring sound counsel and confidence to clients through the entire election process.
Employment disputes and lawsuits remain a major concern for both private and public employers. Employers must continually update their policies, contracts, and training programs. Thompson & Horton’s employment practice encompasses three main areas of focus: prevention of discrimination, harassment, and other legal claims; defending against claims filed with EEOC; and litigating claims throughout any administrative process and in court.
Our attorneys have decades of experience in all facets of employment law and expertise in navigating all stages of the employment relationship including:
- the hiring and recruiting process
- the discipline and dismissal process
- the employee grievance process
- policy, ordinance, and handbook development
- employment contract preparation
- staff and supervisor training
- tenure and academic freedom
- Fair Labor Standards Act and Family Medical Leave Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII
- free speech, religion, due process, and search and seizure disputes
- interpretation of Internal Revenue Service and Teacher Retirement System regulations
- teaching credentials, certificates, and licensing issues
- nonrenewal hearings under Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code
Thompson & Horton attorneys understand that clients regularly confront difficult and sensitive workplace issues. These situations involve not only complex legal questions but also delicate political and social issues that may draw public and media interest and scrutiny. Effective resolution of these matters requires legal skill as well as the experience and judgment that our attorneys bring to investigating workplace issues and counseling clients.
Our attorneys have been litigating on behalf of school districts, colleges, and other governmental entities for over thirty years. Cases range from highly complex and technical school finance cases to sensitive, multi-party child abuse cases to sudden Friday afternoon injunction proceedings. We have handled hundreds of cases in federal courts, state courts, appeals courts, and administrative tribunals, on both the plaintiff and defense side of the docket, in areas involving:
- Civil rights litigation, including disputes regarding free speech, religion, and other constitutional law issues
- Employment litigation, including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation lawsuits
- Contract nonrenewals and terminations, including hearings before certified hearing examiners and appeals to the Texas Commissioner of Education
- Business litigation, including contract and bidding disputes
- Construction litigation
- School finance litigation
- School discipline litigation, including exclusions, suspensions, and DAEP referrals
- Special education litigation, including IDEA and Section 504 appeals
- Election disputes
- Litigation involving the Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act
Our attorneys are experienced in handling jury and bench trials, matters before private arbitrators and mediators, and state and federal appeals. We understand the significance of litigation and partner with clients to meet their objectives.