This summer, law students around the country have been fighting our own schools’ efforts to lobby for corporate immunity. Universities, like many other employers, are lobbying Congress to pass sweeping liability waivers that would make businesses and universities immune from lawsuits—even if they ignore public health guidelines, flout worker safety laws, and recklessly expose students and workers to the deadly coronavirus.
In Alabama, University of Alabama law student Haley Czarnek wrote for The Crimson White about the liability waiver the university buried in a COVID-19 training for students. “If the University knows it cannot be held accountable, it will be free to put its own profits over the fate of Alabamians,” she wrote. “We cannot and should not accept a risk that no one yet understands.”
Likewise, in New Hampshire, Tess Farley, a student at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a board member of its PPP chapter, wrote for the Concord Monitor that UNH must stop both lobbying for corporate immunity and requiring students to sign “assumption of risk” agreements. “Right now, many students and workers don’t feel safe returning to campus but don’t feel like they have a true choice in the matter,” she wrote. Nicole Demas, who is also a student at UNH Law and board member of UNH PPP, told Inside Higher Ed, “If the school is safe enough to open and they’re taking all reasonable precautions to open, it shouldn’t be necessary.”
Nearby in Massachusetts, Niki Rubin and Sarah Tansey, both students at Harvard Law School, wrote for The Crimson that Harvard must oppose corporate immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. “Harvard should be working to make sure that everyone, including first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color can get equal access to education in the fall,” they wrote. “Instead, Harvard is at least tacitly lending its support to lobbying for a corporate immunity proposal that would give America’s biggest corporations a license to kill workers and consumers.”
Meanwhile, in Michigan, Aditya Vedapudi, a law student at the University of Michigan and organizer with PPP’s Michigan chapter, wrote for The Michigan Daily that the university’s support of corporate immunity would reinforce the disparate racial impact of the virus. “African Americans constitute 14 percent of Michigan’s population, but 40 percent of deaths from coronavirus. With corporate immunity, businesses and universities have no incentive to address this disparity. With the University’s recent focus on addressing systemic racism, how can it support legislation that creates risks for students, faculty and workers of color?” he asked. He continued, “As long as the University lobbies for corporate immunity, I cannot trust its safety efforts.”
Across the Great Lakes in Minnesota, Emilie Erickson, a student at the University of Minnesota Law School, wrote for the Minnesota Reformer that she wants “more than anything to return to in-person learning. But this kind of corporate immunity from lawsuits will not make it easier for my campus to re-open — it will only put the lives of students, workers and faculty at risk.” She explained that this is because “corporate immunity protects unreasonable failures to implement safety precautions.”
Finally, in California, Trillium Chang and Will Setrakian of Stanford Law School wrote for The Stanford Daily urging their university to oppose the HEALS Act, which would serve to “protect wealthy corporations and generously-endowed universities from accountability, while exposing working-class families to the deadly effects of COVID-19.”
As Elisabeth Campbell, a PPP organizer and student at New York University School of Law, wrote with NYU Professor Samuel Estreicher, “A liability shield for companies who follow federal administrative guidance in reopening their workplaces will not lead to significantly less litigation, nor will it…help ensure workplaces are safe.” That’s why we’re keeping up our fight—join us!