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CUNY Fights Union Lawsuit Over Layoffs Brought on by Pandemic

July 28, 2020, 9:22 PM

The City University of New York shouldn’t be forced to rehire thousands of adjunct faculty and staff laid off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the fact that the school received about $251 million in federal relief money under the CARES Act, the state attorney general’s office argued to a federal court.

The Professional Staff Congress/CUNY claims the school was required to the greatest extent possible to pay its employees during any disruptions or closures related to the pandemic.

It asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for a preliminary injunction ordering the reinstatement of roughly 2,800 adjunct faculty and staff whose appointments expired on June 30 and haven’t been renewed.

CUNY anticipates using the CARES Act funds for “direct financial aid and counseling to students affected by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, training and professional development to help faculty and staff adapt to on-line instruction, and laptops for students with limited computer access to instruction.”

These priorities are consistent with U.S. Department of Education guidance on spending funds authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the state told Judge Jed S. Rakoff in a filing Monday.

The primary purpose of the funding “is maintaining higher education for the benefit of students,” the state says. “Maintaining academic employment is secondary. The proposed injunction would elevate the secondary policy goal over the primary policy goal.”

Moreover, the CARES Act doesn’t provide a private right of action for employees or their unions to enforce the terms upon which the federal government allocates funds, the state argues. The act also doesn’t “confer a specific, individual right” that could be the basis of a civil rights lawsuit, and the union can’t sue to enforce a contract between CUNY and the Education Department that does nothing more than restate CUNY’s obligations under the statute, the state adds.

Cohen, Weiss & Simon LLP represents the union.

The case is Prof’l Staff Cong./CUNY v. City Univ. of N.Y., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:20-cv-05060, memorandum filed 7/27/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com