Sarah K. Wake Partner

Sarah knows firsthand the complex legal and compliance challenges that employers, colleges, and universities face, having served as both in-house counsel and a unit leader at universities with unique strengths in research, athletics, and student life.

She is a skilled litigator with extensive experience representing employers and institutions of higher education in issues related to discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policy, investigations, and hearings; Title IX compliance; athletics (including name, image, and likeness policy and compliance); admissions; student conduct; affirmative action; diversity, equity, and inclusion; the Clery Act; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); and physical and digital accessibility. She has experience defending employers in connection with a wide array of claims including those under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and state discrimination and wage and hour laws.

Sarah returned to McGuireWoods after spending over 8 years in the higher education sector, the last five of which she spent in Northwestern University’s Office of General Counsel. In this role, her principal areas of responsibility included student-related issues (including athletics) and matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff. While at Northwestern, Sarah was an active member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Committee on Infractions, which is charged with deciding cases involving alleged rules violations by NCAA member institutions and their employees.

Prior to her time at Northwestern, Sarah served as the Associate Provost & Director for the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs at the University of Chicago, where she oversaw all complaints of discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct and served as the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Section 504/Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, and Affirmative Action Officer. She also previously worked at the University of Notre Dame as the Director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator and then Advisor to the Vice President for Research. As Advisor to the Vice President for Research, Sarah focused on issues related to export controls, research misconduct, and innovation, translation, and commercialization efforts. Sarah served as a law clerk for the United States Attorney's Office and as an intern in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where she focused on various criminal matters including sexual assaults.

She understands the importance of collaborating with her clients and their stakeholders to prevent and respond to legal issues that arise, so that her clients can focus on their distinct missions. 


Advised client groups and senior leadership at universities on a variety of issues, including athletics compliance, internal and external investigations, data privacy, fundraising, discrimination and harassment (including Title IX and sexual misconduct), student and employee disciplinary processes, student financial aid, accommodating individuals with disabilities, minors on campus, international programs and activities, diversity, equity, and inclusion, COVID-19, and the Clery Act.

Reviewed, revised, and negotiated complex contracts and leases for campus facilities and services.

Interfaced with external agencies and regulatory bodies on compliance and investigatory matters, including Title IX and Title VI discrimination and harassment with the Office for Civil Rights.

Helped manage public relations matters for universities, including drafting press statements and developing strategy.

Developed and conducted university-wide training (including for senior leadership) regarding discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation and oversaw all internal and external investigations and disciplinary processes regarding the same.

Provided advice and trainings related to affirmative action programs, job postings, policies, accommodating applicants and employees with disabilities, and personnel issues.

Appeared in federal and state courts and administrative agencies regarding wage & hour issues, employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Managed large-scale litigation in defense of whistleblower, class-action vacation pay, and employment discrimination claims.

  • Notre Dame Law School, JD, Editor, Journal of Legislation, 2007
  • Loyola University Chicago, BA, Political Science and International Studies, cum laude, 2004

Member, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division I Committee on Infractions, 2018-2021

  • Illinois
  • New York
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana
  • U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
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