Farnaz Farkish Thompson Partner

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Farnaz is a skilled litigator and investigator with extensive experience in representing corporations and institutions of higher education in high-profile litigation and government investigations. She is the firm’s Education Industry Team Leader and a trusted advisor with a keen eye for due diligence in education-related transactions, including in the edtech industry. She advises clients on employment and education laws to help identify and resolve issues before they become adversarial in nature. She also zealously represents clients before federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education.

Farnaz successfully has defended employers, state agencies, government officials, institutions of higher education, and academic medical centers, as first chair before federal and state courts as well as trial and appellate courts. She handles a variety of civil litigation including cases concerning civil rights, torts, breach of contract, employment, and constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Farnaz regularly represents clients in internal and government investigations concerning civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on race, color, or national origin), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (discrimination based on sex). Her deep knowledge of education laws and regulations includes the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended; accreditation; borrower defense to repayment; gainful employment; financial responsibility standards; FERPA and other privacy laws; the Clery Act; and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Farnaz is experienced with student and employee disciplinary issues, including under Title IX, and has represented institutions in such matters in several of her previous roles. Representing institutions in Title IX cases requires a nuanced approach, as the institution must balance legal compliance with compassion and care, supporting victims while providing a fair process for both parties, including the accused. Farnaz strikes this balance and is a trusted resource for her clients.

Prior to joining McGuireWoods, Farnaz served as the Deputy General Counsel for Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education and also as in-house counsel at the University of Virginia.  She advised the U.S. Department of Education on litigation strategy and worked closely with the U.S. Department of Justice in cases arising under federal antidiscrimination laws and the Administrative Procedure Act. Government officials also relied on her close counsel in preparation for congressional investigations and hearings. At the University of Virginia, she advised University officials on federal education and employment laws and represented the University and its academic medical center in litigation. She also drafted the University’s antidiscrimination and conduct policies, including free speech policies.

Farnaz is a Virginia Law Foundation fellow (class of 2023) and a faculty member for the Harry L. Carrico Professionalism Course. She was honored as a top education author by JD Supra in its Readers’ Choice Awards. She began her legal career as a law clerk to the Honorable Eric G. Bruggink, Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and later as a law clerk to the Honorable Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr., the former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia.


  • Prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a public flagship institution in a high-profile First Amendment lawsuit that drew national media attention.
  • Represented a proprietary institution before the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid’s Borrower Defense Unit, regarding hundreds of borrower defenses to repayment claims under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, resulting in no adverse action against the institution.
  • Successfully represented a proprietary institution and private equity firm before the Federal Student Aid Office in a recertification of its program participation agreement such that the fund was not required to assume joint and several liability for the institution.
  • Obtained full dismissal of all employment discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against a public research institution and its academic medical center. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the decision.
  • Obtained full voluntary dismissal of tortious interference with contract and fraud claims against a dean of a community college in a case concerning the accreditation of an academic program.
  • Obtained a federal, nationwide prefiling injunction against a disbarred attorney for government officials.
  • Argued an appeal to defend a state agency’s ruling before the Supreme Court of Virginia, which the Supreme Court affirmed in part.
  • Co-authored the Title IX Final Rule, 85 Fed. Reg. 30,026 (May 19, 2020), the first set of regulations defining and prohibiting sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.
  • Co-authored the Borrower Defense to Repayment and Institutional Accountability Final Rule, 85 Fed. Reg. 49,788 (Sept. 23, 2019), setting forth the standard for federal student loan forgiveness as a result of a substantial misrepresentation and financial responsibility standards for institutions of higher education that receive federal student aid.
  • Lead attorney in negotiated rulemaking under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, including for Accreditation and State Authorization Final Rule, 84 Fed. Reg. 58,834 (Nov. 1, 2019), defining the roles and responsibilities of accrediting agencies, states, and the federal department of education in oversight of institutions of higher education participating in federal student aid programs.
  • Represented a public university before the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), regarding its compensation practices and policies and other employment law issues. OFCCP’s compliance evaluation ended amicably through a conciliation agreement.
  • Represented a public university before the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights in a five-year compliance review under Title IX that ended amicably through a resolution agreement.