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CUNY Beats Injunction in CARES Act Suit Over Faculty Layoffs

Aug. 12, 2020, 8:51 PM

An employees’ union lost its bid to force the City University of New York to reinstate thousands of adjunct faculty and staff members laid off amid the Covid-19 pandemic, after a federal judge said Wednesday that it lacks a cognizable claim.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act doesn’t provide an express cause of action for enforcement, and there’s no evidence that Congress intended to create an individual right to continued employment, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said.

As such, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY can’t establish that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims, Rakoff said in denying the union’s request for a preliminary injunction. He also indicated that he’d likely grant a motion by CUNY to dismiss the suit.

CUNY received about $251 million in federal relief money under the CARES Act, but didn’t renew contracts for about 2,800 adjunct faculty and staff whose appointments expired June 30.

The union, which represents roughly 30,000 faculty and staff members, sued July 1, alleging that the CARES Act required CUNY to the greatest extent possible to pay its employees during any pandemic-related campus disruptions or closures.

But the language of the CARES Act indicates that the school only has a “generalized duty” to try to retain as many employees as possible, rather than granting individual employees a specific right to keep their jobs, Rakoff noted.

The statute only refers to employees “in the aggregate” and doesn’t impose any concrete spending requirements for preserving their employment, Rakoff said, whereas it does specifically require schools to spend a certain amount on maintaining student financial aid.

The CARES Act also fails to provide any guidance about how schools might determine if it’s practicable to retain certain employees, so it would be impossible for courts to enforce such a right even if it existed, Rakoff noted.

Cohen, Weiss & Simon LLP and staff attorneys represent the union. The New York State Office of the Attorney General represents CUNY.

The case is Prof’l Staff Cong./CUNY v. City Univ. of N.Y., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:20-cv-05060, 8/12/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Dailey at kdailey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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